A Follow-up to Morgantown

This is how the Morgantown Ice Arena tells people about what's going on at its rink: a printed schedule on a bulletin board outside the rink. It's the only way because there's no Web presence beyond public skate.

This is how the Morgantown Ice Arena tells people about what’s going on at its rink: a printed schedule on a bulletin board outside the rink. It’s the only way because there’s no Web presence beyond public skate.

Having some free time in my schedule and no Halloween plans, I decided to head out to Morgantown for a public skate just to check out things in person.

Hey, it was also a good excuse to get some food at Tim Horton’s.

Much of what I brought up in my previous post is still valid. 

Maybe a part of my post felt a bit too harsh about pick-up and even free skate for figure skaters because when I finally got a look at the schedule, I see there’s no room for pick-up at a decent time.

Before I get to the issues, I like the feel of the rink. It truly feels like an old barn with its wood support beams and small lobby. The ice quality is pretty good for an old facility, too.

But damn, trying to figure out when things happen is a challenge until it hits me in the face.

After getting my workout, I finally saw what you see above: a schedule.

I actually laughed out loud because I had a feeling it would come to this. This is the only rink where I’ve seen weeks of schedules printed out on paper and posted on a bulletin board.

A rink in Fishers, Ind., that I would play at would print out the day’s schedule with locker room assignments, but this is quite something.

Morgantown uses a print-out of the reservation system calendar sheet. And that is the only place you can find out what’s happening at the rink.

And so, this reinforces what I previously wrote.

How can you expect people from out of town, or even in Morgantown with their busy schedule, try to find out when there could be a spare extra session or change in schedule? As the closest rink to Frostburg and Oakland, and for many other outlying areas westward, it’s not the most welcoming strategy.

When I called the rink for a schedule today, what sounded like a 14-year-old answered the phone. The kid just had no clue, let alone no customer service skills. The whispering to the other teen in the background to “shut the fuck up I’m on the phone” didn’t bother me. I play hockey (but dear lord, what if this was someone’s mother calling).

It was that he just had no clue and wasn’t trained what to do to answer the most simple questions about scheduling. I asked them if there were any drop-in or pick-up or stick  and shoot hockey sessions scheduled and he just didn’t understand. He told me two adult games were scheduled tonight though, for what it was worth (nothing).

The excuses about being understaffed and not having enough time to post a schedule online were always laughable. I at least verified that much seeing the adult manager on duty finding enough downtown to just stand around at the front counter or sit in his chair relaxing. This wasn’t just a 15-minute break, this was every time I came off the ice.

One of those lulls in the week—and there are a lot of them—can be spent for 10 minutes maximum, updating schedules if needed. And communicating in emergency cancellations.

During slow public skates, and especially during afternoon sessions, there’s not a lot of action going on that will take you away from the desk. Use these moments to get the rink out there to bring people in during your public sessions.

It’s evident the arena is making money because how late the ice slots go during the week. I can’t imagine having a 11 p.m. practice for D-III hockey. I’ve heard and seen worse in Florida, though, for the University of Florida ACHA team.

Hell, even figure skaters were relegated to a 10 p.m. or later slot in a few instances for November. There may be opportunities for an early morning—6 a.m. or 7 a.m.— pick-up, that works well in some larger cities. I wouldn’t be able to attend those, but it might be worth exploring.

The best outcome, really, would be a new two-sheet ice rink to be built in Morgantown, operated by another entity and different staff. The rink is only seasonal and is jam-packed. I don’t see how there’s enough ice for all age groups and all user groups — especially enough opportunities for beginners.

Until then, I’ll continue to pursue this issue, writing a letter to the board to show what changes are needed.

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A Failure to Communicate at Morgantown Ice Arena

If you’re not playing in a league or attending public skate, good luck finding out when you can show up at Morgantown Ice Arena to play hockey or figure skate.

Running a public sports complex calls for deft maneuvering to satisfy multiple user groups, the general public and your board of directors, and most likely, your local politicians budgeting money for your space.

I will confess to you that I cannot run a fundraising campaign, provide detailed recommendations on mechanical adjustments to save utility costs for an ice rink or even sharpen skates.

But as a longtime player, volunteer as well as business reporter, I can tell you what makes great customer service and what a functioning board looks like. (And a dysfunctional board when I covered a corrupt housing authority.)

I’ve been communicating back and forth with Melissa Burch, the executive director of the Board of Park and Recreation Commission of Morgantown that oversees the seasonal Morgantown Ice Arena about scheduling issues. Her emails are open to public inspection as a public employee, so you’re free to request the board’s and staff’s email.

The issue is well, there really is no schedule. And if one exists, good luck finding it.

The ice arena posts its public skating session on its webpage, http://www.boparc.org/ice-arena.html, but that is it. You cannot find times for drop-in hockey, drop-in figure skating freestyle, or game times for West Virginia University’s ACHA teams.

The lists of excuses of why they couldn’t post a schedule was ridiculous. After several emails, the least she could say she could do is to ask an employee at the rink to leave the schedule on the answering machine of the phone.

When you call the rink, most of the times you will not be able to reach an employee or volunteer, so you get a voicemail for Larry Casteel—the facility’s manager who is probably understaffed and overworked. When I finally was able to reach somebody last week, the person did not know the schedule. Actually, he wasn’t sure if a schedule was made for next week. 

Next week?! You’re doing schedules week to week instead of a month out or more?

The basic tenants of operating a business include posting hours and prices. As I told Burch in my last email, “we want to play and you want to make money and you can’t make money if we don’t know when to show up.”

I don’t understand why the rink has to operate like a secret society. Imagine showing up the mall, expecting that it should be open at 4 p.m., on a Wednesday and it’s not. And you didn’t know it would be open because they don’t post what time they’re open.

I asked Burch if the rink could at least post times on the Ice Arena’s Facebook page, which shows as unofficial because nobody has claimed it.

Here’s her reply on Oct. 15:

“Unfortunately, there are several Facebook generated BOPARC facility pages out there (I have seen them for Krepps and Marilla Pools as well) and we do not have staff to dedicate to managing these pages we did not create.
If there are issues with up-to-date schedules on sites we do maintain that pertain to BOPARC managed leagues, I have copied Larry Casteel and James Moore in order for them to be informed of this and to look into it.”
I also manage social media for work and was a former social media editor at a previous job. Let alone this being 2015, if you cannot build a network of either staff or capable volunteers to manage facility pages as a government entity, you’re failing your customers and taxpayers by not marketing and advertising the facility in one of the cheapest ways possible. Talk to your media relations specialist at the city or county to provide training and advice on best practices if you don’t know how to do this.
Somebody is managing a Morgantown Adult Hockey Leagues Facebook page and last posted on Oct. 10 that they advertised a time for stick-time, and then cancels it at the last minute without telling anyone, leading to people showing up pissed off:
Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 8.49.18 PM
Nothing has been posted since then. No updated schedule. I think someone from the rink is affiliated with the page, but who knows.
Worse yet, on Sept. 27 that page posted a full season schedule of pick-up has been carved out and would be posted later that day. Nothing. No acknowledgment either to the issue.
On the 19th, Burch replied that she looked into posting the calendar generated from the reservation system:
“Unfortunately, if we were to make that link public, the system would only show scheduled slots as “reserved” and would not show what group, team, etc. was in those slots.
This is a security setting on the system so it isn’t something that can be change.  The option is normally used for things like picnic shelter rentals so that perspective renters can get an idea of the availability of a shelter on any given day.” 
Without being in there in person, I suggested a few alternatives that aren’t difficult to do. Once is to create a calendar via Google or Office 365 and embed it. Updating it is super easy.
I even suggested something that requires even less effort: typing up events in a calendar template in Word and posting as a PDF.
On Oct. 27, Burch replied:

“It works well if you don’t have a lot of changes, as you mentioned.  We do have the option of embedding a google calendar for more static activities and have used that for some other things.  Public sessions are really static, pick-up hockey and drop-in figure skating somewhat less so…

I did speak to Larry regarding getting the public session schedule on the answering machine and he will take care of that this week.”
Oh, boy. Creating a calendar “works well if you don’t have a lot of changes.”
That is exactly why you create a calendar of events for the public—to let people know there is a schedule change for your public sessions and events whether it’s pick-up or games. Do you know want to make money? Do you not want people to visit the rink?
If you serve on BOPARC as a commissioner, ask your staff key questions:
  • How are we communicating to our customers?
  • How are we communicating our public sessions?
  • Why are we not posting the schedules on our Web page?
  • If somebody wants to show up to pick-up hockey, or drop-in or any other event at the ice rink, how do they find out?
  • If you are telling them to call, does someone answer the phone each time? And do they know the schedule?
  • In 2015, aren’t most people looking for their information online? Why would we force them to call someone who is tied up at the rink?
  • How often do you create a schedule?
  • Between Adult Hockey Leagues, youth hockey, figure skating competitions, public skate and WVU Hockey, there should come a point where you know very well how your schedule shakes out. Why aren’t we filling out empty ice time with programs?
  • Why are we not using social media frequently to communicate about programs, schedule changes, etc., for each facility? The same goes for the general BOPARC Facebook page, which has infrequent updates despite all the activity at the rink.
  • Who is in charge of social media for BOPARC?
  • Obviously somebody is maintaining the BOPARC Facebook page. How hard would it be for someone at the rink to email or text the employee managing the Facebook page to post a schedule update or change?
  • Do you know you can schedule your social media posts in advance, so you can sit down at once and schedule updates and communication changes instead of interrupting yourself throughout the day?
  • And if you do have a last-minute change, do you know that it takes less than 3 minutes to post an update?
  • Is it worth it to lose a customer because of a failure to communicate effectively, or in some cases, at all?
  • Before we explore funding a staff position, let’s find out who the social media and communications experts are at the City of Morgantown government office and even Monongalia County government. What training and best practices can they provide?
  • Canvass your staff and make social media and schedule communication a part of their daily duties. Or, find a volunteer from a user group to communicate with to relay the changes.
  • How do you define good customer service?
  • Is good customer service include making it a challenge for customers to know how and when they can use our facilities and give us their money?
  • When will you implement these changes?

I read the Washington Post column on parents letting their 10-year-old try ice hockey. What I thought about her column was dreadful.

The moment I read the Buzzfeedesque headline on Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak retelling her experience navigating youth hockey with her son, my eyes convulsed.

The pretentious style of those headlines turn me away at all costs and here, I’m writing (and righting) a wrong.

Dvorak is as much to blame here as the other problems she brings up in her piece, “Our 10-year-old decided to give ice hockey a try. What we encountered was dreadful.” She wove a tale about how her 10-year-old was just trying out hockey and by golly, it turns out he magically ended up in a program where he’s pushed to be a pro from the start.

The story has a good ending despite the horrid headline that I blame on the copy editor or Web editor. The kid finds another team, after all, and he has fun. And really, it didn’t have to be like this.

What Dvorak describes in her column is a cross between a parent not doing her research before enrolling her child, her family experiencing the byproduct of an elitist D.C. culture and lack of effective communication by the operators of the hockey programs.

Here’s how she opens:

Our son had always been a great ice skater. But beyond lapping everyone at the rink and trying tricks in the middle of the ice, he never wanted to do anything more with it.

Then he decided he wanted to give hockey a try.

Turns out, he was waaaaay over the hill. At 10.

Here’s some data she leans on later on:

No wonder participation in youth sports has dropped by 4 percent nationwide in the past six years, according to a survey by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

USA Hockey shows that membership in D.C., Maryland and Virginia has largely grown. These numbers are comparing the latest numbers from 2014-2015 to the last date available where data was similarly tracked, in 2005-2006:

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NHL Veterans Getting TKO’d on PTOs

If you’re looking for feel-good stories of redemption from NHL veterans on professional tryout contracts, it’ll be a small chapter.

Only nine players on PTOs signed NHL contracts as of Monday, according to General Fanager:

  • Scotty Upshall (St. Louis)
  • Jonas Gustavsson (Boston)
  • Corey Potter (Arizona)
  • Michal Rozsival (Chicago)
  • Tomas Fleischmann (Montreal)
  • Lee Stempniak (New Jersey)
  • Steve Bernier (New York Islanders)
  • Brad Boyes (Toronto)

Let’s look at some of the notable names of the more than 85 players signed to a PTO during this offseason, according to a comprehensive list from The Hockey Writers. If those numbers are true, only 10 percent of players on a PTO signed a contract.

That number could be bumped up as Martin Havlat is working on a contract with the Florida Panthers, according to the Miami Herald’s George Richards and Scott Gomez could get something done with the St. Louis Blues, according to Andy Strickland.

[Update: Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Tuesday afternoon that Havlat will not sign with the Panthers, while Sirius XM NHL reports that Jack Skille signed with Colorado and Setoguchi, below, is signing with a Swiss league team.]

Actually, let’s construct a 23-man roster from the list because there are so damn many guys cut. We’ll leave off Havlat and Gomez giving them the benefit out the doubt.

Forwards

Curtis Glencross-Derek Roy-Devan Setoguchi

Sergei Kostitsyn- David Booth-Patrick Kaleta

Daniel Paille-Tyler Kennedy-Kirill Kabanov

Patrick Dwyer-Jack Skille-Tomas Kopecky-James Sheppard

Extra Forward: Joey Crabb

Defense

Lubomir Visnovsky-Jan Hejda

Andrej Meszaros-Sergei Gonchar

Douglas Murray-Vitaly Vishnevski

Extra D: Ryan Wilson

Goal

Ray Emery

Peter Budaj

What I see is that serviceable third-line and fourth-line shutdown forwards are being shown the door. There are plenty of younger guys available to take those spots, and some that are stuck in the bottom three because the team’s depth won’t allow them to get in the top six.

A few of those players are former snipers whose luster has worn off, some explained like Setoguchi who went through rehab to get his career on track. Others like Glencross who fell off a cliff when traded to Washington from Calgary and plummeted so much that he was released from two PTOs in this pre-season.

Overall, you’ll have a team full of checkers and grinders, doing a good job of wearing down the other team and allowing few goals.

On defense, it’s old and slow. Guys like Gonchar and Visnovsky can make your power play pretty, but keeping goals out of the net will be an issue. As much as the forwards can do, it’s a five-man unit, and the back-end is thinking offense too much.

Glance at the ages and length of time in the league, and you wonder if these guys know that they’re supposed to retire before injury makes them retire. Gonchar is 41; Visnovsky is 39; Hejda is 37 and Murray and Vishnevski are both 35. Meszaros is 29 but plays like he’s 35.

In goal, Ray Emery takes the reigns while Peter Budaj continues his career back-up role. Razor, cut from the Lightning camp after Tampa’s own goalies were coming back from injuries, would be best with a team like the Lightning where he can be sheltered by a good defense as opposed to the lineup above.

Looking at who’s available this year, you could imagine there would be a similar crop come  2017-18 when the NHL could expand to Las Vegas, or even to Quebec City.

Remember, these are just the guys who would accept a PTO.

Look at some of the other UFAs who are without a team and didn’t sign a tryout:

Dainius Zubrus, Eric Brewer, Sean Bergenheim, Olli Jokinen, Stephen Weiss, Michael Ryder and Brenden Morrow. Out of that list, Morrow showed he should be ready to sign retirement papers. Zubrus is getting there at 37 years old and 10 points in 72 games last season in New Jersey.

With the European leagues already underway, can any of these guys still find jobs playing?

Update: Frostburg, Cumberland is in NHL Network ‘Cable Desert’

Hockey fans living in Allegany County are being skipped by the NHL Network on cable.

Comcast’s Xfinity and Atlantic Broadband cable are not carrying the NHL Network in Allegany County, putting fans paying for services like NHL CenterIce and GameCenterLive being robbed of games thanks to the league’s blackout policies.

After going through four Comcast customer service reps, I received a definitive answer from the cable technician who visited my apartment about NHL Network’s availability in Frostburg.

You can read my previous issues in this blog, but to quickly recap, Xfinity’s and NHL Network’s websites show that with certain packages in my ZIP code, I can add on to watch the NHL Network. After several attempts at trouble shooting and different answers from different reps, one worker sent out a technician.

Fortunately, the technician is a hockey fan and even has played hockey. He explained that for reasons he did not understand or know, the NHL Network is available in neighboring Grantsville, Md., in Garrett County, where Frostburg’s service area cannot get it. Part of this confusion is that the Frostburg ZIP, 21532, extends and gerrymanders its way into Garrett County—a place with the largest amount of state-owned park land in Maryland and few year-round residents.

The technician added that he rebuilt a customer’s cable this week and added the NHL Network to it, and the service area gets more channels than other more populated areas like his hometown in Somerset County, Pa., just north of Grantsville.

The only thing I can do is request the channel, but let’s look at some bad business here.

It’s likely some things weren’t going to be offered in Frostburg because Comcast doesn’t not own the cable territory for all of Allegany County. Cumberland—the county’s biggest city—and points east in the county are controlled by Atlantic Broadband.

That company typically carries the NHL Network, but a look at the channel line-up, updated Oct. 1, shows that NHL Network isn’t available for its subscribers here.

If you live in Washington County or Garrett County and have cable, you can watch NHL Network. If you live in between, in Allegany, you’re out of luck.

Which leads me to the blackout issue. NHL Network game broadcasts are blacked out on CenterIce and GameCenterLive. Consumers are taking an unfair hit here because they don’t have the option on Xfinity or Atlantic to subscribe to the channel, so why black out the games? Especially if you are paying full price on CenterIce and GCL.

Yes, there is a solution. Switch…to…satellite.

DirecTV does offer the NHL Network here in Frostburg in a package as low as $34.99 a month. Now, you don’t get the reliability of a connection nor is broadband Internet available through DirecTV here (and forget about doing DSL up here).

Getting an Internet plan only from Xfinity isn’t an easy task, especially with a speed suitable  for my data usage. The Internet-only plans are for very slow speeds and you can’t sign up for that online. The rest of the plans require a subscription to either cable TV or its VOIP phone service.

So, I’d be easily pay more than what I do now for a triple play bundle that is already discounted.

You wonder why so many people are cutting their TV, and this is why. It would be great if this process would be more consumer friendly to cut the cord after an experience like this.