Jim Rogers

Jim Rogers, Wayne Gretzky and Tony Knowles at the 2004 Arizona Coyotes “99 hours of Hockey” event that they held for Gila River Arena’s grand opening.

In early October, the Arcadia neighborhood mourned after finding out that the long-time owner of AZ Ice Arcadia, Jim Rogers, had passed away. Hockey had been a passion of Rogers’ from childhood, one that grew so much that he was known as the godfather of hockey.

AZ Ice Arcadia, located on 40th Street and Thomas, initially opened as the Ice Palace in 1966. In the early 90s, Tower Plaza and the Ice Chalet owned it until 2001, when Rogers took over. The grand opening of AZ Ice took place on September 11, 2001 – a day remembered for a very different event.

“Everyone was calling him and letting him know what was going on – we ended up closing and opening up the next day, and it was slower than anticipated, but every day it got bigger and stronger, and we’re still here,” Rogers’ son Justin said.

Rogers was born in Long Beach, CA. He had asthma, which led the family to move to Phoenix when he was three. Rogers started working at AZ Ice at 14 years old as a rink attendant.

“He lied about his age so he could get a job here,” Justin said. “He always wanted to play hockey, but his parents looked at him like he was crazy, so he did everything he could to get involved with hockey and skating.”

Rogers worked his way up, and by the time he was 18 years old he was the general manager of the Arcadia location.

“He worked as the GM, the hockey director, the figure skating director – he worked every position,” Justin said.

Rogers eventually transitioned to the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. He worked his way up from ice runner (running intermissions and concession stands) to the vice president of hockey operations and general manager for the Roadrunners semi-professional team. He was there when the league won their championship in 1988, and from there, made his way back to Arcadia.

“Everything he did in life; he did with passion,” Justin said. “He was a multisport athlete growing up: football, basketball, soccer, baseball, bowling – you name it, he did it. And he had varsity letters for every single sport.” Rogers also initiated the hockey program at Arcadia High School, where he graduated in 1982.

Since Rogers wasn’t able to participate in hockey growing up, it drove him to become involved in any other way he could. He helped coach the hockey leagues at AZ Ice Arcadia.

“He built youth hockey in Arizona. When he first started 40 years ago, there were three 12-year-olds, three 10-year-olds and three 8-year-olds, and he made the team out of that,” Justin said. “It was a unique way to start it, due to the lack of hockey at the time. And now, it’s grown into seven local associations in the Valley alone.”

Justin said that Rogers wanted to give children a chance [to play hockey] that he never had.

“That was his driving force. Not only to help the most elite but to help the minimalist who wouldn’t normally have that chance,” Justin said.

Rogers was a coin collector who would give out gold or silver dollars to all of his players – for something even as fun as “having the sweatiest head.”

“The looks on the kids’ faces. It could have been a practice where a kid scored his first goal ever or a player’s first goal in a game. He would carry around a backpack full of gold dollars to hand out to the kids,” Justin said. He explained that the tradition has and will be carried on in the future.

When he wasn’t on the ice, Rogers was bowling, fishing or golfing. If he wasn’t actively doing something, he and his family relaxed at home.

In the future, the team at AZ Ice are looking to do more theme nights for their public sessions and enhancing their “learn to skate” and “learn to play hockey” programs. Rogers had recently set up an initiative to get 1,000 new hockey players or skaters to try one of the programs.

Rogers also started the Valley of the Sun Hockey Association around 35 years ago that set up a scholarship fund that would go toward player fees, gear and equipment. Eventually, Justin wants to expand the opportunity to all players in Arizona, not just the Valley.

“The community has become a hockey family,” Justin said. “Every player looks up to their parent as being the rock star, so the amount of support we’ve received since my dad passed has just been amazing. I’m so thankful that my dad put me in this world.”