It’s the end of an era as Peter Nugent hangs up his hat at Kelligrews rink

By Mark Squibb/March 3, 2023

In 1975, Peter Nugent was 17 years old and looking for work, so when he heard Alexander Enterprises, a construction company from Stephenville, was looking to hire people to build a new stadium in Kelligrews, he jumped at the opportunity.

Nugent landed the job and was still there two years later when the rink was ready to open its doors and hire its first operators. He applied again and went from construction worker to Town employee as a maintenance man and Zamboni driver.

“I went in and figured I would get a bit of work for that summer,” said Nugent. “And here I am 45 years later.”

Nugent retried last week after over four decades of committed service to the arena and its many user groups. To literally thousands and thousands of young hockey players, figure skaters, broomball players, ball hockey players, roller skaters, and even teenagers who attended the building’s many summer dances, Nugent was a caring and reliable fixture of the rink itself.

In the weeks leading up to his retirement, even Nugent had trouble accepting its approach.

“Your mind was always on it,” he admitted. “You’re finally going to retire after all of those years. What are you going to do? Your mind is racing a bit thinking about it. It’s a bit bittersweet. I had a good run. It was something that I dearly loved. I’ve been there so long, ever since I was a young man, until today. I dearly loved working at the stadium, I was there a long while. So, retirement is something I’ll have to get used to.”

There was nothing done at the stadium over the years that Nugent didn’t have a hand in at one time or another. He operated refrigeration and mechanical systems, maintained the ice surface, drove the Zamboni, sharpened thousands upon thousands of skates (he was well known for that skill in particular), and booked ice rentals (noting it was a challenge to slot enough ice time for the dozen or so groups vying for ice time before the Town managed to build a second arena.)

He’s overseen countless tournaments and competitions, and special events, like Lion’s Club fall fairs, and participated in several ice making and refrigeration seminars over the years, receiving a certificate as a Power Engineer Refrigeration B Operator along the way.

“I loved it,” said Nugent, who himself played some senior hockey and rec league hockey. “It was a dream job. I loved hockey, so that was a plus. I loved meeting people. Over the past 45 years I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve met young kids playing hockey and years later they’ve grown up and are bringing in their own kids. And you would always meet new people coming in, and people from different communities. It’s been enjoyable.”

Nugent was promoted to stadium manager in 2015, and oversaw operations at both the Robert French Memorial Stadium and the new CBS Arena.

“It was a little bit of a transition, moving into a manager position, but it was maybe a little easier because I was familiar with the stadium operations and I knew what I was getting into,” he allowed.

And though he would never admit it himself, Nugent was probably the most liked person among stadium users and his many coworkers over the years, and there have been some charming and colourful ones, such as the late Jack O’Leary, who was a popular figure in the rink for many years.

Nugent said he is proud to have worked with so many wonderful people. One in particular who stands out is former manager Randy Walsh.

“Randy Walsh was a great help to me,” said Nugent. “I learned a lot from Randy Walsh. He worked in maintenance, and he was also a refrigeration operator, and eventually went into a management position. And I got to say, he was a great help, Randy was.”

He also has many fond memories of the dedicated canteen staff, ladies such as Loretta Peddle, Phillis Greenslade, Emma Clements and Frances Wiseman, who served up piping hot fries and other stadium grub.

At last week’s Conception Bay South public council meeting, self-confessed rink rat councillor Paul Connors addressed Nugent’s retirement, and his impact on the community over the years.

“Anyone that grew up in Conception Bay South playing hockey or figure skating, or going to the Robert French Memorial Stadium, knows Peter Nugent,” said Connors. “He was more than an employee of the town. He was the go-to person at the stadium, he was the expert. He was probably the most well-known person there. Everybody knew Peter at the stadium. He was the ice-cleaner, skate sharpener, rink attendant, and did anything that needed to be done. The arena was his home away from home and I bet you Peter knew every hockey player, from minor hockey, to high school hockey, to junior hockey, to senior hockey, to the rec leagues – everything. And not only did he know the players, but he probably knew all the players families. He was the face and the eyes of the arena for a long time.”

Connors himself spent many hours at the rink, and knew Peter both inside and outside the stadium.

“Peter has thousands and thousands of friends,” said Connors. “Because of his personality, and his love for the job that he was doing, because he took pride in the job that he was doing, it was easy to become friends with him. He will definitely be missed.”

As for his retirement plans, Nugent said he’s going to sit back and relax for a little while, although his grandchildren Isaac, Isla, and Dominic will no doubt keep him busy.

He said the fact of his retirement hasn’t really kicked in yet.

“I guess as more time goes by, I’ll realize that I’m not going back to work again,” said Nugent. “But it’s good. It was time. Forty-five years is a long while. I just turned 65 in October. So, after 45 years I was ready.”

Nugent added he’s grateful for the many kind words sent his way since retiring.

“It’s nice to know that people appreciate what you’ve done and what you contributed to the operations of the stadium,” he admitted. “It’s nice to hear.”

Perhaps more than anything else over the years, Nugent said he was most proud to watch his own children play hockey over the years, in the rink where he worked.

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