BELMONT ARENA - 50 YEARS - A TRIBUTE
November 22nd, 2017 - As a 7 year old player just starting in the sport of hockey in 1968, ice arenas were very sparse in Western Pennsylvania. There were just as many outdoor rinks as indoor rinks.
Even though the heritage of Ice Hockey in Pittsburgh dates back to the late 1800's, there was a roller coaster of youth participation in organized leagues and the rinks that supported them. Overshadowed by the dominance of baseball and football as the area's main sports, hockey remained a small and inconsistent fraternity of passionate people who loved the game for it's ambiance.
At one of the main public park rinks in the North suburbs of Pittsburgh, there was one of those small fraternities. Playing on a rink approximately 240' long and 120' wide, no boards just a kickpate, no player benches, no scoreboard, etc.... makes me sound like the guy who walked up hill, 5 miles, both ways like my father. But all those facts are 100% accurate in 1968. The players cleaned the ice between practices and periods of games with snow shovels provided by the rink because the Zamboni seemed to be broke down 90% of the time. It did make us better skaters and in better condition though. A strange early way of "power" skating.
Frank Black, just an avid sports person, realized very early on that the key to being a better ice hockey player was the skill of skating. He also realized that playing one game a week and having one hour practice a week was not going to be enough to promote this skill mearly due to lack of available ice time. One day, my dad said to me, "Bob, get in the car, we are going to speak with an owner of an ice rink." I remember the experience vividly. We got in the car and it seemed like we drove forever. Main roads, then back roads, then highways. I said to him at one point, how far are we going to this rink? He said it would be worth it and boy was it.
As we got to the rink, we went to the Rink Manager's office. After the normal introductions, the manager said that his ice schedule really was full and wasn't sure that he could help us. My dad, who never gave up on much, said to him "Look, we will take anything you have no matter what hours." The manager said, How does 6am to 8am sound every Sunday morning for the entire season? My father said, "We will take it!" They shook hands and the table was set for our group to get three times as much ice time as we were getting at this time. As I looked in dismay knowing how far we traveled but still very excited, my dad and I were as giddy about the idea the whole way home. This story goes that the manager was also the owner and his name was Hugo Montebell. A great, great man who built an indoor state of the art ice arena next to a built in swimming pool because the kids in the Kittaning area needed something for the winter and summer to enjoy.
This dedication and hard work lead to many, many great memories we all share at the Belmont Arena. Games against Canadian teams, championships, and charity events. The list is long over this time period.
Hugo unfortunatley died of cancer and my father in a skydiving accident later in my life, but not before the Black family and Montebell family became life long friends. His wife, son Gary, and nephew Larry carried on this tradition until today. 50 years of providing a special place for families to enjoy both winter and summer. With the help of public funding and a hard working, dedicated staff, the Belmont Arena looks as good as any arena in Western Pennsylvania. Under the direction of Gary Montebell passed down from Hugo, ask any long time player....It still is the best ice to skate on in the region!
The entire hockey community and good people of Western Pennsylvania appreciate and thank the Montebell family for their dedication and providing this important landmark for us to enjoy.
- Bob Black