New Jersey ice center trains Olympians

Off Route 80, down a dead end side road in Hackensack, New Jersey, stands the Ice House, an ice skating facility that has produced eleven figure skaters for the 2018 Winter Games.

Ice House coach, Igor Krokavec leaves for South Korea, Tuesday. He coaches Nicole Rajicova from Slovakia and Switzerland’s Alexia Paganini. 

Krokavec says, “They are really good girls, they work hard. I’m really proud of both of them and that they made the Olympic Games."

Daniel Raad, who competed at the national level for the U.S. and trained at the Ice House, is now coaching the Israeli National Team.

Raad says, “The ones I work with are Paige Conners and Evgeny Krasnopolsky who are in the pairs competition.”

The Wall of Fame inside one of the rinks has the names of all the athletes who have trained at the Ice House and have competed at the national level, including Olympic champions. Combine them with the eleven that are now in Pyeongchang, and you have to ask the question, “Why do they come from all over the world to Hackensack, New Jersey”.

Nina Petrenko, who has coached three Olympians from the 2002 and 2014 Olympics, has the simple answer. She says, “We have four sheets of ice, skating is available all day, 12 hours a day, there is elite ice time, where the older, more mature skaters can have space to themselves to train.  We also have all the training stuff you need, rehabilitation, a gym. It’s a full facility.”

But now that we know where the Olympians train, how do they learn how to execute the infamously difficult quad for men or triple axel for women, just like we saw from American Mirai Nagasu?  

“As a former skater, when I saw that, I just love to see people push the envelope to compete, she nailed it, and it was great, especially for an American.  It was fantastic to watch,” says Raad.

Kevin Coppola, who has been coaching at the Ice House for 6 years, says, “They have to understand the mechanics. Your physical strength, when you jump, your rotation, position of the skates and your alignment are all factors. You have to have an incredible amount of speed to execute the triple axel, or even more … quads.”

Coppola is currently training 8-year-old, Gabriella Panaligan, who started skating at 3. She, like most of the athletes who train at the Ice House, are home schooled.  Gabriella is working on her double axel, wearing a special pole harness. Coppola explains, “it just helps them get the feeling of doing the rotations in the air, and gives them a little assistance on the landing.”

As Coppola guides Gabriella with the harness, he tells her, “You want to keep your head looking to where you want to jump!”

Gabriella explains what it’s like to do an axel jump, and says, “It was really scary at first, but when I landed it, I was really proud of myself. You need to be focused, keep your neck straight, and stay tight in the air.  My goal is to land the double axel clean and I want to make the Olympics in 2026.”

We’ll all be watching for you, Gabriella!