The rink has signed on nearly a dozen men and women’s hockey teams from the surrounding colleges and public schools, all of which will practice and play games in the facility’s two rinks.

Rucker is banking on the nearly 1,200 to 1,300 hockey families that will drop their kids off at the rink for practice and play to stay, eat food and buy gear when the Worcester Sports Center opens in the fall.

“If it was just hockey, people would drop off their kids and then go somewhere else,” Rucker said.

To that end, he’s signed leases with two eateries, a physical therapist, a merchandise store and a Swedish ice-skate sharpening company.

Niche Hospitality Group will open a restaurant and cafe in the space, called Nonna’s Pizza & Pasta and Nonna’s Cafe.

Worcester Ice Center and Worcester Railers owner Cliff Rucker is transforming the the city’s Canal District.

Nonna’s Pizza & Pasta will have a window room that overlooks one of the rinks, meaning fans, friends and family can enjoy lasagna and wine while watching a game. At Nonna’s Cafe, hockey patrons can enjoy a cup of coffee with some dessert.

“We want it to be family style Italian restaurants, affordable, high-quality food,” Rucker said. “We want you to sit there while your kid is playing, eating lasagna and with a pitcher of Sangria.”

The men’s and women’s teams from Becker and Worcester State, Worcester Polytechnical Institute’s men’s team, and several junior hockey teams will practice and play at the rink.

Rucker’s newly-purchased team, the Worcester Railers, will also practice at the rink.

Many of the college teams will have their own dedicated locker rooms, and sports merchandise will be sold alongside Worcester Railers gear in the merchandise store.

Rucker said the away games for college teams attracted between 300 and 400 people per game. He’s hoping to double those numbers downtown.

“Its gives college students a reason to go downtown which they haven’t had that reason. We want them to say, ‘Let’s go to a game, let’s support our students, let’s go support my buddy on the team,” Rucker said.

The city of Worcester is in the midst of a renaissance of development, dining and culture that has accelerated in the past few years with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the downtown area. The Canal District has also seen significant growth.

He’s also hoping to make the rink an attractive option for high-quality college players. To that end, Rucker signed a lease with Prosharp, a Swedish company that develops ice-skate sharpening technology.

Prosharp produces and sells mechanical ice-skate sharpening equipment. In addition, Reliant Medical Group has signed on to open a physical therapy center in the rink.

“The more successful their teams are, the more people are going to get behind it. It’s all symbiotic: You can’t recruit state of the art players unless you have a state of the art facility,” Rucker said.

With 30,000 square feet already leased out, that leaves room for one more tenant, Rucker said. He’s hoping to fill the last space with a strength conditioning facility and is already in talks with six interested parties.

All that retail adds up to more than 100 jobs in the Canal District, 340 parking spots and even more room for growth. If the rink is popular enough, Rucker wants to turn the area across from the rink into a hotel with even more retail spaces.

The parking spots absorbed from that construction would be reformatted into a layered parking garage, meaning there will still be 300-400 spots for the rink in the parking-starved neighborhood.
“If this as successful as I hope it will be, and we’re bringing lots of people into the Canal District, then we’re going to keep developing this,” Rucker said.