NRHS hockey coach McAuliffe leads rally for an ice rink



NORTH READING — Beneath a sun-splashed 80-degrees, it was a tall task, indeed, to raise interest in a venue typically associated with winter and cold weather. But Brian McAuliffe is a man on a mission and last Saturday, on a picture-perfect early summer day, the popular schoolteacher and hockey coach launched a venture to bring an ice skating rink to North Reading.

Friends, family, and loyal supporters gathered on the Town Common for an enjoyable afternoon of live music, stand-up comedy, and lawn games for children and adults alike. But there was also an element of lively brainstorming taking place as McAuliffe’s “Rally for a Rink” marked the first steps toward what promises to be an inspirational journey.

“As a kid growing up in North Reading, I wondered why we didn’t have a rink here in town,” said McAuliffe, who is a father of three, a business teacher at the North Reading High School and sixth-year Head Coach of the Hornets ice hockey team. “Over the years, I frequently heard discussions from other dads and groups of parents who have tried to get a rink built. I’m just picking up where others have left off.”

An informational rally is a great first step toward sparking interest in a project of this nature. The next step, however, will likely be more demanding.

“We would like the town to consider setting aside a suitable piece of land designated for an ice rink, which is my focus,” said McAuliffe. “If space allows, perhaps add-ons that you would find in a typical sports complex could be considered.”

McAuliffe’s friend and supporter Mike Guidicianne believes that a full service sports complex, similar to the Essex Sports Center in nearby Middleton, would be beneficial to North Reading.

“It is my belief that we should build not just an ice rink but rather, a gathering place,” said Guidicianne, who returned his family to North Reading following ten years living in California. “We could arrange for access to trainers, in-house physical therapists, and other amenities that are part of a full-service sports complex. Even a Dunkin Donuts inside, like they have in Middleton. And maybe a twin-ice surface, to allow for tournaments and figure skating. There’s so much a rink has to offer to a town like ours.”

When the discussion turns back to the subject of a land grant, McAuliffe agrees that the recently purchased lot adjacent to Ipswich River Park would be an optimal location. But he is also a resident of North Reading and understands the town may have other projects in mind for the land portfolio.

“There are seven or eight possible locations that would suffice but if they’re slated for other needs of the town, I certainly wouldn’t want to interfere in that respect,” he said. “Maybe a subcommittee could initiate a feasibility study to find land, obviously, without the need to use taxpayer money. We understand there is a great deal of legislation that would have to take place.”

When asked about financing, rink construction and management, and other pertinent factors, it is obvious McAullife is well-prepared to answer the tough questions that might come his way from North Reading leadership.

“Once the land becomes available, I believe there will be incentives for a lot of different parties,” he said. “There are those who have already expressed interest in having a rink in North Reading and I think there are enough people in our network who would supply the necessary resources, including materials and construction at cost or efficient in their cost management. Until we have the land to build on, however, it’s tough to start a conversation with someone who might be willing to pony up millions of dollars toward this project.”

John Moran, McAuliffe’s teammate through the multiple layers of North Reading youth hockey over the years, stressed the importance of the sport to his family and friends.

“My parents have lived here since 1974 and I grew up here,” said Moran. “I moved back to North Reading in 2021 with my wife and three boys and find that we’re often driving to out-of-town rinks to skate and play hockey. I’d like to have a rink here for the high school, something to build the program around, to build our town around.”

In the circle of communities around North Reading, each has access to an ice rink. In Reading, there is Burbank Arena, Wilmington has Ristuccia Memorial, Middleton, the Essex Sports Center, and in the Andovers, there is Phillips Academy and the Lawlor Rink. Only Lynnfield lacks a town-based facility but the hockey team and townspeople have access to McVann in nearby Peabody. The benefits to residents of these communities are obvious. There is senior skating, learn-to-skate programs, figure skaters, sled hockey and of course, hockey teams.

“If you build it, they will come,” said Guidicianne, borrowing a phrase from the popular film, “Field of Dreams. “North Reading has ample land and the financial means, and there is plenty of support behind this.”

“In the history of North Reading, there has been little investment in the sport of ice hockey,” summed up McAuliffe. “We haven’t been vocal about it, until now. The spirit of a rink is still alive and well. The bottom line question that has to be asked is, why not North Reading?”