Popular skate sharpening business at Orangeville rinks closes 

September 14, 2023   ·   1 Comments

Mel kept the blades and relationships sharp for 39 years

By Sheila Duncan

Mel’s Pro Shop in Orangeville has been a popular place for hockey players and figure skaters over the years, and owner Mel Zahodnik has become a familiar face. He has watched young skaters grow up, some still pursuing their love of sports on the ice into adulthood.

Mel kept that passion sharp for many, or at the very least ensured their blades were sharp for action on the ice, as they developed their skills and enjoyed their sport.

For Mel, the idea of taking on a skate-sharpening business started when he was working part-time as a custodian at the former Orangeville Arena (later to be named the Tony Rose Memorial Sports Centre). Terry Carroll owned a sports store on Mill Street at the time and had been awarded the tender for skate sharpening at the arena. Mel watched the skates being sharpened and became interested. In fact, it was his wife who applied for the tender when it came open, and Mel’s Skate Shop was born in 1984, later to be called Mel’s Pro Shop. He remembers that George O’Neil was the manager of the arena, and Joyce Winegar was the secretary.

He received some instruction from TSM, a company that made skate sharpening equipment, so he could learn more about the skill involved in sharpening different types of blades and for different types of use – hockey, figure skating, goal-tending, as well as factoring in the age of the blades to determine the technique to be used.

Skate sharpening in Orangeville, offered at both recreation centres in the past, became a busy enterprise for Mel – and one where he got to know a lot of people in the community. He had the shop open Monday to Friday from 5-9 p.m. and hired help to keep the business open at least 12 hours on both Saturday and Sunday. 

On an average week, 50-125 skates would be sharpened at the business. And he worked full-time for 26 years handling general maintenance at Fruehauf Trailers and then 15 years as a courier for Peel Police. The skate sharpening at Tony Rose Sports Centre ended in 2005, with more demand at the Alder Recreation Centre.

So, did Mel play hockey or ice skate? “I could skate, but I wasn’t a good hockey player,” Mel laughs. However, he had two children who spent a lot of time on the ice, figure skating and playing hockey. A die-hard Leafs fan, Mel admits he is a big fan of Wayne Gretzky. His second cousin is Dave Andreychuk (a former Canadian NHL player and Stanley Cup winner).

“I loved skate sharpening,” Mel says. “I didn’t think of it as a job; more of a hobby. I enjoyed working and meeting people.” 

He remembers a young teenage couple who loved to skate without socks – and the smell of their skates. He recalls the fellow who was intrigued by the fact that Mel sharpened skates from toe to heel instead of the other way around, and he can still see the packed arena when the Junior C’s played a championship game against Belle River. Yes, Orangeville won. 

Mel also remembers sharpening skates for NHL players Ron Ellis and Dave Burrows when they were in town to help coaches with training. He remembers the young kids who went on to make names for themselves in the NHL (Dan Ellis, Jeff Cowan, Nick and Brent Richie). 

“The kids were like family to me. I don’t recognize all of them now but it’s a nice feeling when you’re at the grocery store and people remember me and say hello,” Mel recalled. 

Fast forward 39 winter seasons, Mel has sold the skate sharpening equipment and is looking forward to slowing down a bit and taking on some other projects. Nevertheless, he hasn’t left skate sharpening behind just yet. You can see him back working at the business (now operated by BDS Limited) at Alder Recreation Centre on Tuesday and Thursday nights for another year. He will also be helping out at the curling club and doing some work around his home, plus travelling to visit relatives in various parts of eastern Canada.

Rick Stevens, who has been president of Orangeville Minor Hockey for the past 17 years, agrees Mel has sharpened skates for many young players and skaters over the years. 

“Mel is a genuine and great person; he has always been a leader and great supporter of Orangeville Minor Hockey,” he said. “Whether you needed your skates sharpened, or your blade reattached during a game, Mel was always there to assist anyone. It’s going to be sad not seeing Mel’s face when you enter the arena. Everyone loves Mel. On behalf of Orangeville Minor Hockey, I wish Mel all the best and certainly hope to see Mel in the arena watching some of the stars he sharpened skates for in the past.”

Mel was a fixture at the arena, says Don Williamson, ice scheduler for Orangeville Tigers. “He could always be counted on for quality work and products, but also for his smile and unwavering support of girls’ hockey and all youth sports. A down-to-earth guy, he always engaged with people. He would check tournament schedules and always make himself available.”

Originally from Port Arthur, Mel grew up in Toronto and met wife Dianne when they both took accordion lessons in their youth. She died in November of 2022 and was well-known locally as a real estate agent. They had three children: Jennifer of Beamsville, Natasha of Berlin, Germany, and Ken, who died in April of 2023.

“I want to thank everyone for 39 seasons,” Mel says. “I will still be around but not as much. It’s a great community.”

∗ ∗ ∗

The following anonymous poem titled, “Something To Think About,” is about Mel Zahodnik. 

He stands in the arena

With his heart pounding fast

The players all waiting

For his important pass.

Mom and Dad cannot help him;

He stands all alone

A score at this moment,

Would send the teams home.

The puck nears the net;

He shoots and he misses;

There’s a groan from the crowd,

With some boos and some hisses.

A thoughtless voice cries, “You stink, you bum”.

Tears fill his eyes;

The game’s no longer fun.

Remember, he’s just a little boy

Who stands all alone,

So open your heart and

Give him a break,

For it’s moments like this

A man you can make.

Keep this in mind when you hear

Someone forget,

He’s just a little boy and

Not a man yet.

Readers Comments (1)

  1. Ron Zahodnik says:

    Great article and I am very proud of me brother


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