What started as a small pond hockey rink out on Lake Winnipesaukee behind Fay’s Boatyard in the 1970s has transformed and blossomed into one of the gems of the Lakes Region.
And Merrill P. Fay was the man behind the scenes making it happen.
On Friday night, following a brief closing ceremony for the teams among the Lakes Region Youth Hockey Association, friends, family and even a few former Boston Bruins gathered together around center ice to thank Fay the only way they knew how: by naming the rink after him.
With a swift unveiling of a banner from former Bruins players Bruce Crowder and Rick “Nifty” Middleton, the Laconia Ice Arena will now be forever tied with the man who built it as the Merrill P. Fay Arena.
“There’s nobody more responsible for this place, there’s nobody who’s done more for it, before it was built and after it was built,” said Jay Meegan, president of the non-profit Winnipesaukee Skating Club that oversees the arena. “He started to think with youth hockey developing, let’s find a way to build a proper rink. He doesn’t play. He doesn’t even skate and so most of it came out of his love of watching the joy that other people got out of it.
“Was this an easy decision? Absolutely because there’s been no bigger benefactor,” added Meegan. “If you ask him if he wanted this, he’d say absolutely not so that says it all to me.”
The unveiling of the new name was meant to be a surprise to Fay during the ceremony honoring all the success the Lakes Region Youth Hockey Association enjoyed this season, but he said he started to get suspicious when he began seeing throngs of familiar faces approaching him.
Following awards for all of the Lakers Nation teams, including the Allan Gilbert Builder’s Peewee 1 team who won the Granite State League Tournament and represented the state of New Hampshire at the New England Tier II Peewee Regionals, Fay was asked to come onto the ice for a special ceremony.
It was at that moment that Meeghan said a few words about Fay before showing off the rink’s new name as the crowd of kids on the ice began chanting “Merrill! Merrill!”
“It’s something else,” Fay said moments after finding out. “This was built for these people, it really was and there kids have skated here and that’s what it’s all about.”
The journey to get to that point was a long one.
Fay, who grew up in Rochester and graduated from Spaulding High School in 1954, never played hockey growing up, but his father was the hockey coach at Spaulding and Proctor Academy and Fay took over the family’s boat yard on Lake Winnipesaukee when his father passed away in 1958.
It was behind the boat yard where Fay really built his first rink.
“This sheet of ice started in his boat yard on Lake Winnipesaukee,” Meegan said. “He cleared the ice, he flooded it to make it smoother and plowed it. He nurtured it and he got a lot of joy out of it … Eventually he decided to move it on shore and built the rink at Varney Point as the Arthur R. Tilton rink.”
The new outdoor rink was a success, and provided a local spot for hundreds of kids to enjoy the long, harsh winters of the Granite State. Fay even had Bruins’ legends Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Don Awrey participate in “skate-a-thons” that helped raise money for a roof that went up in 1984 and a zamboni.
Fay didn’t form the Winnipesaukee Skating Club until 1989 and soon after purchased the seven acres of land and paid for the construction for the current Laconia Ice Arena building. After years of hard work and raising money to fund the facility, the arena opened in 1997.
“This was my vision and the boat yard supported this 100 percent and that was the main thing,” said Fay, whose son Williams runs and operates the arena. “All the people that helped us with the Winnipesaukee Skate Club, a lot of them were here tonight and were the ones who really built the rink.”