Next Steps for FSU Outdoor Rink

EDIT:

Since this post was first published, we received assistance on how to guide university bureaucracy.

The FSU Ice Rink Club is up and running, but it has to complete the boring stuff before fundraising can start.

The members are working toward creating a formal proposal and operations manual to do a seasonal rink before fundraising can start.

This is likely a two-year project. Hope to have updates soon!

We’re making progress on getting a small rink on Frostburg State’s campus, and this week will be about getting more students involved.

FSU Rink AerialWe’re going to go for a 50×100 rink and we are proposing it be located on the Stadium Gravel Lot. This lot is outside of our PE Center, beside the baseball field and across from the student center. This parking lot became a makeshift lot after construction staging, so Athletics folks will be happy to have that space blocked off and made useful.

Students are coming back into town this weekend, so this week will be about getting them together and form a student organization that can receive funding from the Student Government Association and get an account set up for donations.

How can you help?

While we are seeking internal funding, we know we need to raise money for both the rink and rental skates.

If you are interested in donating cash, we are in the process of setting up an account with the FSU Foundation  to do so. The money will go toward rink materials, acquiring rental skates and seating.

If you are wanting to donate ice skates or any other materials or supplies, please reach out to me through the comments here. Your donation can be made in-kind through the FSU Foundation, and I can assist in completing the necessary paperwork.

From here on out, I’ll post major updates about the rink here but the daily planning can be found here in the Frostburg Ice Rink group on Facebook.

Bringing an Ice Rink to Frostburg…Hopefully

You have to start somewhere, and I figured I might as well get the momentum going.

Now that I’m settled in at Frostburg State University as an employee, I feel comfortable being involved with projects that makes the campus buzz. It helps strengthen my connection to the campus and community and gives me something else to think about at work.

I’m seeking a grant at FSU to bring a seasonal outdoor ice rink to the campus. There are a lot of moving parts, but I won’t stop until it comes.

If I don’t get a grant that could be awarded this fall, then I have to wait until next June to hear the results of another grant.

What you’re here for at this blog is to be involved the grassroots movement.

I need volunteers for construction, operations and acquisition of donated ice skates for skate rental. I need to know more about the folks who will use this. I primarily want students, faculty and staff to use this. Though if it’s cold enough in December and January between semesters, I’d see about opening it up to the community.

Here’s what I can tell you:

  • The rink will be unrefrigerated. If you know someone with money to buy a 12-ton chiller and a better rink system, tell me. But we’re going au natural.
  • The rink will either be 48′ x 96′, 60’x 80′ or 50’x 100′
  • That size depends on location. I’m still in talks trying to find an agreeable location.

This both excites and scares me. The scary part is not knowing what Mother Nature will do. Two winters ago was frigid as can be. Last winter dumped over three feet of snow.

As well as hoping to acquire enough skates for people who need to rent skates.

The exciting part is seeing this rink filled, seeing people enjoy ice skating and hockey in Allegany County again. I don’t know too many students at FSU who will make the drive to Wisp Resort in McHenry just for ice skating in the winter. This helps make it more accessible for them or else that’s an 80-minute roundtrip drive plus at least 60-90 minutes of skating. That’s a three-plus hour excursion that’ll be hard to do on a school night. And a lot of students don’t have cars up here either.

I hope to share more news soon about the progress of this project.

In the meantime, take this survey about your opinions concerning an ice rink at FSU:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VTDRVQL

And if you’d like to help or donate to the cause, please leave a comment.

 

 

10th Year Anniversary of Riverside YMCA Rink Closing

In my day (evening?) dreaming of an ice rink once returning to Allegany County, Md., I turned to Google to entertain me.

The search made me realize I missed the milestone, or gravestone, of the Ort Family Ice Arena. April marked 10 years since the ice rink at the Riverside YMCA in Cumberland closed for good.

In my sulking, I found a few odds and ends tied to the history of the rink. (Read my take on a 1986 study on bringing an ice rink to Allegany County if you want to go way back.)

It was well known that it was the first YMCA to have an ice rink on site of one of its clubs, but other YMCA locations, or just Y now, looked to Cumberland for inspiration.

Officials from a Rockport, Maine, YMCA visited Cumberland’s rink in 1999, according to the Bangor Daily News.  The Riverside YMCA in Cumberland opened in 1997. The ice was removed after April 2006. It’s been 10 years in Cumberland without an ice rink.

A month after that article was published, officials dropped plans to add a rink because they learned a businessman in the community was going to build one.

Probably a wise move.

The other tidbit is the whereabouts of the original Ort Family Ice Arena manager.

Gary Baldwin, who also served as an interim CEO of Riverside YMCA, is the general manager of the Lou & Gib Reese Ice Arena in Newark, Ohio. That’s just a 40-minute drive east of Columbus. It’s also about four hours from Cumberland.

Baldwin turned up on a page mentioning his Cumberland experience on the website of the National Collegiate Hockey Association, a new league for club hockey programs.

The league posted a mini-biography/thank you to Baldwin as the rink hosts the NCHA championships. The biography noted how the rink almost shuttered 10 years ago but local businesses and volunteers raised $1.5 million to keep it open.

Compare that to the fundraising campaign that still brought in money to the YMCA but they decided that the money wasn’t going to be used to save the rink.

What if?

It’s such a sad situation the rink isn’t here anymore. I really wish I had the money to build one myself here. But my luck ran out playing slots at Rocky Gap Casino, and the lottery balls aren’t bouncing my way.

Now, I pointed out on here before that it’s possible any rink could have been doomed here when the higher paying factory and manufacturing jobs left Allegany County and the area in the past 10 years.

On the flip side, when the rink closed it was when the first season of NHL hockey was wrapping up following the 2004-2005 lockout. The 2005-2006 season was the first season in the league for Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Both the Capitals and Penguins finished last in their divisions.

Ten years later, their success and notoriety caused an explosion and resurgence in youth and particularly adult hockey in both regions. Would the rink have seen the same resurgence if it continued to operate during the rise of Ovi and Sid?

I’d like to think so but there are so many other factors. We’ve seen new rinks, renovated rinks and added sheets in both the Baltimore and D.C. areas in that time. Pittsburgh has seen new rinks but there has been a market adjustment the past couple years there, especially with a state-of-the-art Penguins practice rink in Cranberry Township. Others have closed in that metro area as there is a movement to build a new one in an armory.

But in this region—Cumberland-Johnstown-Uniontown—it’s a struggle.

As you know, Planet Ice in Johnstown is closing in July, leaving the first Kraft Hockeyville USA down a rink. That community still has two other rinks. The Ice Mine is for sale outside of Connellsville, Pa. Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., is vehemently opposed to using its outdoor ice rink for shinny or anything resembling hockey.

Somehow, there are more people in this county in 2016 compared to 2006 but fewer people are living in the largest city, Cumberland. That’s going against trends where people are preferring to moving back to the city.

Bedford and Somerset counties in Pennsylvania—both just north of Allegany County—have lost population from 2010 to 2015. And Cambria County, where Johnstown is, just bleeds out population. The county lost 10,000 people from 2001 to 2016. That’s an entire town.

So, it’s certainly a struggle. But let’s focus back here for a minute.

I’m encouraged that Allegany County is opening hotels left and right, which means there are needs for business travelers and vacationers to be here more and more. We’re seeing more chain restaurants invest here–Cracker Barrel, Buffalo Wild Wings, a new Chick-fil-A–in addition to a new shopping center with Aldi, PetSmart and others in LaVale.

If only we can land some larger companies that pay well for people who want to live here, then the dream of bringing back an ice rink can return.

 

Conflicted About Kraft Hockeyville

Kraft HockeyvilleI’m having mixed emotions about what rink I’m supporting for this year’s Kraft Hockeyville.

The Rockville Ice Arena here in Maryland is one of the top 10 finalists. It boasts quite a success story and quite a few of the Capitals players’ children have played there over the years. One of them being current Maple Leaf William Nylander and his little brother Alex Nylander when their dad Michael “Circles” Nylander played here…twice.

There’s also, nearly the same amount of a drive away from me, the Twin Ponds East Rink in Harrisburg, Pa. It’s close to Hershey, Pa., where the Caps affiliate Hershey Bears play in the Giant Center.

Here’s the deal: Rockville, and Montgomery County for that matter, is probably the most affluent community in the Kraft Hockeyville Top 10. Montgomery County consistently ranks high nationally for its household income thanks to cities like Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac.

I haven’t played in that rink since high school, but looking in the photos it looks well maintained. Probably just cramped and I’m sure they’d like to build new, larger locker rooms to benefit the elite teams.

Given the demographic of the families who play there, I’m sure the community could easily come up with the money itself through philanthropic partners and patrons.

Just by being in the top 10 the rink is guaranteed $10,000. I think they’d be happy with that. Moving on would mean $25,000, if they are runner-up it’s $75,000 and top prize is $150,000.

Also, one of the grand prizes is a pre-season game held in the rink. It’s too small so it would have to be played in the next closest arena…which is the Verizon Center.

This isn’t as cool of an experience as last year where Johnstown and its Cambria County War Memorial Arena was a runaway favorite. The county-owned and privately-managed rink was in danger of shutting down the last few years because of the financial challenges. The county has the largest population loss of any Pennsylvania county in the last five years, too.

The “Slap Shot” history made it endearing, and fortunately the county and state were pumping money into it anyway for a new subfloor, which couldn’t be installed in time for the pre-season game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

The NHL and its partners went above and beyond, providing additional improvements beyond the grand prize money to make the rink safe to play in for NHL players.

A year later, a competing rink across town, Planet Ice, announced it will shut down. If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that isn’t too much of an issue because the North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg was being used for maybe three hours a day and somehow stayed open. It is also owned by the county and managed by the same firm in charge of running the War Memorial. A new general manager was brought to remedy scheduling issues and the Planet Ice closure solves all of that.

That community is definitely facing economic woes where they’re lucky to make ends meet let alone have enough money to play hockey. So, even rink upgrades can’t solve bigger issues regarding hockey and rink availability in the community.

I haven’t been in Twin Ponds in ages either, but the rink’s owner Reed Patton told The Sentinel in Carlisle, Pa., he has a growing list of things to replace. Really, any rink hitting the 20-year mark has growing projects that they have to tackle:

“These things are very difficult to run,” Patton said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve done. There’s stuff that just gets worn down — compressors, roof, things like that that need attention. One of the items is the roof has been leaking as it gets older. There’d be some attention to the roof. Then for the rest of it, we would have to find out what Kraft Hockeyville would allow.”

What I like the Twin Ponds nomination is the game could potentially  be held in either the Giant Center or the “old barn” Hersheypark Arena. I could easily see a Capitals-Flyers match-up in the old arena, which has been recently renovated and is still used for Bears practices and community hockey games.

And actually, Patton also told The Sentinel, that after speaking with the Bears, the game would likely be put in Hersheypark Arena:

“We would probably do that at the Hersheypark Arena,” Patton said. “We talked to the Bears about that. It’s just a bigger venue and that would hold more people. It would be a free game, too, and we’d probably end up with some kind of lottery for tickets because there’d be so much demand for them.”

 

Some of the other nominees have really, really nice rinks.

I’m sure the historic Olympic Center in Lake Placid will get some votes for the history, but with a venue that big, I feel like the money won’t go that far.

There’s another rink outside of Chicago on the list that looks posh and well manicured and another that wants to build a third ice sheet.

The only one on the list that features Jeremy Roenick narrating the poor conditions is Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Mich. They show how the roof leaks and the compressor is about shot and the glass supports are rusted.

Since I can vote 50 times a day online and another 50 via text, I think I’m going to be splitting my votes in the first round. There are some communities that need the help more than Rockville.

Duplicate Blue Jackets’ Winter Park on the National Mall

If Washington couldn’t host a Winter Classic on the National Mall, hosting some shinny could be a nice consolation prize.

The thought that a marquee event like the Winter Classic would ever be on the Mall was somewhere between daydreaming and lunacy and the Caps dismissed that idea back in 2012. The reason being is that there would be no way to get 20,000 to 40,000 quality temporary seats placed on the Mall.

But you still could put an ice rink there for a couple of months.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have brought outdoor hockey to the city’s downtown this year after trying it out in 2015 to build excitement for the All-Star Game. The team calls this regulation size rink and its environs Winter Park.

Here’s what the Jackets said back in 2015 about the rink:

It features everything you’d see in a normal hockey rink or hockey arena, except for a roof. Locker rooms, skate rentals, concessions, merchandise tents, a broadcast perch for the FOX Sports Ohio “Blue Jackets Live” broadcast team of Bill Davidge and Brian Giesenschlag…this rink has it all, and it figures to be the centerpiece of a one-of-a-kind experience that the Blue Jackets and several of their local partners want to bring to the city.

I saw a few flyers about the rink when I saw the Caps play in Columbus on Jan. 2 and was both super pumped about a regulation rink with all the proper dasher boards and glass in place for public use and super bummed that it wasn’t going to be open until after we left town.

The Blue Jackets have not only hosted public skating, but team practices (where John Tortorella earned his fractured ribs) and pick-up hockey for the public (!!!).

Yes, it’s $25 but shit, they have heated tents to get changed in. Well worth it, boys. Even if it means having to play at 6 a.m. I was amazed at the accessibility of the rink being across the street from Nationwide Arena in McFerson Commons.

(The Blue Jackets also had another idea that’s on-point: Dad’s Charity Game. Alas, this wasn’t at the outdoor rink and instead at Nationwide Arena where the players’ fathers played against First Responders.)

The Caps have held outdoor practices when they could at the Chevy Chase Club, but that’s not quite accessible given the private club atmosphere. With the Caps Convention gone for a couple of years now, this would be a neat way to do something different in the District and more for the community.

The National Gallery of Art has an outdoor ice skating rink, but it’s strictly for skating. You won’t see a full-on game going on here or Ovi working on his shot here.

The Mall is just as accessible with a Metro stop on the west end, is relatively flat and D.C. is definitely a walking city. If a budget team like the Blue Jackets are able to find sponsors and build a full rink, then the Caps could and have Kettler in charge of managing it.

The only thing is I don’t know how much the National Park Service would charge to rent out that large enough of a space on the Mall.

Cost may not be the issue, really. It’s probably the incredible restrictions for special events on NPS land. The chief one is about the storage of propane cylinders and restrictions of storing fuel on NPS property.

That could cause an issue if the only Zamboni you have uses propane as a fuel source. And then there’s the electrical access.

Marketing and advertising restrictions would mean the Caps would have to be careful how they use it and market it. Strictly promoting a commercial brand (NHL, Capitals) is a no-no. A special event featuring advertising of sponsors? It’s OK.

Oh, and this part won’t help you sign up season-ticket holders:

Soliciting personal information such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, zip codes, etc., or any other such information which may be used for future solicitation or marketing purposes, is strictly prohibited.

Sigh.

OK, I’m not so sure now. I don’t even know how you’d be able to do this for a weekend rink if D.C. ever gets an All-Star Game. There would have to be a huge community or charitable cause, like raising funds for the National Mall, to mask this as in order to work. Exactly the mission of the rink. The community part—not the part about hiding under the guise of a charity.

It would probably be less restrictive to do something like this on the West Potomac Park, which is south of the Lincoln Memorial along the Tidal Basin. This is where you’ll see some major concerts like the Landmark Music Festival which was like a D.C. Lollapalooza with a charitable cause (though how much it ultimately raised, who knows).

Hey, nothing’s going on in RFK during the winter anymore other than using its parking lots to deposit snow. The stadium has way more space than you need, but you’re not staffing the whole stadium for this. You’re closing off access to the upper bowl, and really, any bowl. Just get people access to the locker rooms to change and a way to walk out to the rink.

(Honestly, I know that’s a pipe dream. But maybe offering to do an outdoor World Juniors or NCAA game there would be a way in.)

D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation has ballfields that could work but with them mainly being in neighborhoods and beside schools it doesn’t have the same sort of ambience or access.

All that leaves you with is fields at American and Howard universities. Ehhhhh.

None of those other choices have the allure or accessibility of the National Mall.

Mr. Leonsis, it’s time to Rock the Rink on America’s front porch.

 

 

Puckpourri

IMG_1436.JPGIt’s been well over a month since I last updated this blog, and that’s unusual for me.

It’s hard to keep pounding the keyboard when the progress or results you’d hope isn’t there. I’m not talking about clicks, but just movement on the hockey front.

And each day I’m further removed from my life in Florida, so quality updates are harder to come by. I’m trying to stay away from blogging about the Caps and Bolts because there’s such a crowded space there that I’m focusing on customer service at ice rinks, grassroots hockey and ice rink development.

I managed to see a Caps game on the road in Columbus that managed to inspire me despite the loss, and that’ll be an upcoming post.

That said, here’s what’s happening in my hockey world, for better or worse.

Wisp Rink

The hopes that 3v3 pond hockey would happen on this outdoor refrigerated rink has dwindled with the current manager. It’s just a weird situation where I just need more help from other people to break through.

Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., is for various reasons suddenly not interested in pond hockey on its rink after receiving an initial OK from the resort manager. A manager in a smaller role that is inexperienced with rinks said no, solely based her decision on talking to the rink manufacturer.

I sent a detailed rebuttal, discussed options that could make it work along with revenue and it was a non-starter.

I started a petition on Change.org in hopes something could come for 2016-17 winter season. But I might just have better luck hoping for a manager experienced with rinks to take over that area. (Or ideally, someone else building a rink in the area. Just not that plastic synthetic crap.)

To my surprise, there are 20 supporters of the petition so far. From speaking to people both in person and online, I was surprised by their negative view of Wisp but I didn’t go into asking what made them feel that way. But at least this would be a way to earn some goodwill again in the community.

Pond Hockey

My pond hockey group — Frostburg-Cumberland-Deep Creek Hockey — was able to at least squeeze in one game with three of us on a pond in Finzel, Md., before the beast of a nor’easter dumped about three feet of snow here.

The section of Cranberry Swamp we played on was perfect for pond hockey. The water doesn’t keep a large depth and after three days of subfreezing temperatures it’s solid. The only thing we would need is more players, more daylight and enough energy to shovel the rest of the snow.

And when the snow storm passed through, there wasn’t any way any of us could get to that swamp or any other place to play. Now temperatures will reach into the 40s and maybe even low 50s for the next 10 days. That might have been our only shot at pond hockey for the season.

Elsewhere, a backyard rink popped up on the baseball diamond north of Chambersburg, Pa.

The Herald-Mail wrote about this basic outdoor rink at Greene Township Municipal Park that recently opened. Of course, the story was posted the day before the snowstorm leveled the region. And now that everyone is digging out, the ice is melting as we’re warming up.

I was semi-furious when I read about it because I haven’t heard anyone at the Hagerstown rink talk about it–maybe nobody there knew either. But worse, the paper reports that the township purchased the $4,000 kit three years ago and didn’t have the right people in place to use it to its maximum potential and get the word out.

Right now, the rink wasn’t allowing any “organized events.” To me, that means pond hockey, so it’s another bridge to cross when it either gets colder. Or probably for the 2016-17 season.

North Central Recreation Center

I haven’t seen any more changes or progress to scheduling at the often closed/seldom used Ebensburg, Pa., rink.

I’m being a bit patient with this as the new general manager is having to overhaul operations to the much larger and famous Cambria County War Memorial Arena and this community rink. These are publicly owned rinks managed by a private firm, SMG.

The manager, Steve St. John, hoped to hire people after the first of the year and that’s the part that can drag based on being able to find the right person and get approvals from his company. And then the blizzard happened. So, it could February until we see staff there at that rink and probably even later for noticeable changes as leagues will wind down their seasons by May.

Morgantown Ice Arena

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The only way a schedule of pick-up and stick and puck will be posted online with enough notice is if I drive out and take photos of the schedule board. It’s just amazing to me that nobody at the rink or BOPARC can find an easy way to post a daily public schedule online.

Florida Rinks

More pictures continue to be posted at a few Florida ice rink projects.

The Florida Hospital Center Ice rink in Wesley Chapel is moving along after a slow start. Seeing a frame is good enough for me but the excitement really doesn’t set in until you see the finished product. I don’t see any way that the Lightning will continue to practice in Brandon after this is built.

And at the original Lightning practice rink, the Clearwater Ice Arena also posted photos of its expansion project. I think once the new rink opens, people will be asking for them to close the original part to have that area redone. I don’t know how you can make that happen because you need more space for the benches and the end zones.

I have not seen a single photo of progress of the Orlando Hockey Center in Winter Gardens, Fla., which is supposed to become the practice rink of the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears.

The website, http://orlandohockeycenter.com, is still a splash image.

The last article written was in May 2015 with the Orlando Sentinel’s GrowthSpotter reporting that there wasn’t a timeline for construction, let alone a groundbreaking despite the project already receiving municipal approval. Did funding go sideways? Is ownership potentially changing, leading to a move of the Solar Bears? Those are just two of the obvious reasons this project could be delayed. And of course, 100 more reasons why it’s not being built yet.

I spotted a couple of tweets from Solar Bears fans wondering about an update and CC’d GrowthSpotter for more.

Hockey Retail

For Sports Maryland is changing its awkward name to the slightly less awkward but more sensible East Coast Hockey and Skating Supplies. Why can’t it just be East Coast Hockey Supply?

The pro-shop, which had locations at the Ice Gardens in Laurel, Md., and Rockville (Md.) Ice Arena recently opened in the Chilled Ponds Ice Arena in Chesapeake, Va., which is in the Virginia Beach area. Thus the Maryland part isn’t needed anymore.

The company posted on Facebook that the name change is effective Feb. 1.

In national hockey retailer news, the parent company of Bauer purchased Easton Hockey from an equity group this month in what ended a dramatic period where an ex-chairman of Bauer tried to oust the company CEO because of disagreements with the company’s strategy. Some of that strategy included opening Bauer Experience retail stores.

I could see some of that reasoning of not agreeing with the opening of Bauer stores, especially in a retail environment that is moving more online. But with a nice product like this, it would be helpful to have the company that makes the gear to train employees directly to sell the gear because of the fitting that needs to be done and warranty questions.

Gear reps typically visit pro shops to educate employees on new products but not all the employees are there at larger stores and couple that with turnover, then you’re getting second-hand information that could be lost in translation.

I’ll expand on the Bauer-Easton deal and the landscape of equipment manufacturers in a future post.

 

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:

Continue reading

ECHL targeting new and old markets

Something strange is afoot at the Circle K of professional hockey.

A head-hunting firm trying to sniff out markets for minor league teams now as the ECHL and AHL realigned to better serve parent clubs and NHL expansion being on the horizon.

The end game is to have one affiliate in each league to one NHL club. Right now the ECHL has 28 teams.

In July, the Tampa Bay Lightning are no longer a shared affiliate of the Florida Everblades, leaving it without an affiliation—at least they haven’t announced  new one yet after getting dumped so late in the summer. That move made sense in the long-term considering the Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos owns German Arena and the club.  The vote was part of a larger philosophy of ending shared clubs, according to the Naples Daily News. I still don’t understand why it wasn’t better coordinated to find the Bolts another affiliate.

In the meantime, Reno, Nev., is listed as the only future market on the ECHL’s website, but that didn’t stop the CHL merge and AHL relegations, which suddenly became future markets in some scenarios.

Reno and Las Vegas were supposed to return to play this season, but that doesn’t look possible.

A group called Hat Trick Consultants is trying its best, though, to find some suitable homes for ECHL teams.

Eastern Shore Hockey 

One of those markets were pursued before, in Salisbury, Md. A viability study is being conducted for a 6,200-seat arena with a 500-seat practice rink in Worcester County, Md., with the idea of having an ECHL hockey team as the primary tenant, according to The Daily Times.

The company behind this pitch is Hat Trick Consultants. The Dallas-based firm is tooting its horn that it’s looking for markets to build rinks in for AHL and ECHL teams, especially with Las Vegas and Quebec City needing affiliates if they are awarded NHL clubs.

The newspaper outlined the history of ECHL bids in Salisbury before, and outside of the arena portion, an ice rink is needed for that area. Salisbury is big enough for a nice-sized minor league baseball stadium for the Delmarva Shorebirds and is home to Salisbury University. The Ice Gulls have to travel to play its ACHA games at a rink in Delaware. The closest ice rink in Maryland is in Easton, Md., about an hour away. That rink is only open seasonally and as anyone from Maryland knows, that’s not the best route to go with Ocean City beach traffic. So instead they head up an hour into Delaware.

Salisbury sounds great, right? Well, that city is in Wicomico County. Worcester County is known for Ocean City—obviously a summer destination.

Hockey blog The Sin Bin spoke to Mike Barack, president of Hat Trick, about how this all plays out:

“We approached Worcester County with not only the arena plan and the idea for a team, but also development around that area,” says Barack. “Ocean City, Maryland is one of the biggest tourist spots in the United States and it could utilized much better with a new facility in the region to go along with the development plan we have put forth, as well.”

Though, with the tight cap on memberships and some geographical hurdles, where would some of these markets look at location-wise?

“We believe that the ECHL would be geographically ideal for these markets,” Barack states, “But we aren’t going to focus solely on that. These markets could be used as relocation spots for the AHL, SPHL, even USHL (Tier-1 US Junior Hockey).”

Ocean City is only Maryland’s second largest city during the summer, when you can enjoy the beach, the swimming and the ponies down the road in Assateague and Chincoteague. Restaurants significantly cut back while some close during the coldest months of the year.

I’ve never been in Ocean City in the winter, and I don’t know if I ever would want to be by the Atlantic in the freezing cold. Ocean City is filled with restaurants and bars–both chain and local mom-and-pop places–amusement parks and putt-putt courses built for warm weather. There’s not a huge jobs center, whether it’s an office complex or factory, to support year-round jobs that could provide the income to see enough of these games, despite the cheap ticket prices.

The same families that fill OC during the summer aren’t going to come back during the winter because thousands of folks drive several hours from across Maryland just to get to the beach and will be there for a weekend or more. You’re not going to get someone to come after work from Annapolis on a Wednesday night to watch goon hockey.

Being close to Ocean City doesn’t cut it during those months. You’re asking a lot of people to drive a ways away to get to this arena, even if it’s placed at the western edge of the county near Salisbury.

It ought to be in Salisbury, in Wicomico County, but the city already has an arena that could seat 4,100 for hockey, but because the public arena is not allowed by the county to sell alcohol, no pro team will want to go there. The ECHL tried before but the county would not change its laws.

Salisbury has about 30,000 people in it plus 8,600 college students at Salisbury University, making it a better population base. Ocean City’s year-round, non-seasonal population? About 7,000. That’s less than the number of students enrolled at SU.

Think about it this way—not only do you need enough people to support watching these games in the 6,200-seat arena, but that practice rink is likely going to be a public rink for adult hockey leagues, figure skating and public skate similar to how other ECHL arenas do. You’re going to need the population, income and interest to support two rinks.

Leagues at a lower level, including juniors, would call for fewer seats, naturally, but I feel like you would need an even more hockey hungry market for the type of junior team to be successful if you’re dedicating 4,000 to 6,000 seats to it.

Tier 1 is the top U.S. junior league. The city with the smallest population in the league has 58,000 people (Dubuqe, Iowa). Most of the remaining cities are 100,000-plus and 200,000-plus.

Tier 2 junior, the NAHL, has teams like the Johnstown Tomahawks where the Pennsylvania town has about 20,000 people but also has Altoona and Ebensburg close by to support the team and arena. This would be more in line of what could be on the Eastern Shore, but not if it’s in Berlin or OC.

I’m somewhat concerned that this is just an exercise in seeing what community can provide maximum tax breaks for the arena they want. It could all be a ruse for leverage against another city where they legitimately want a team but are facing issues (cough, cough, Fenton, Mo.)

What makes Maryland different is that our state has the Maryland Stadium Authority, which receives a chunk of steady funding from Maryland Lotto. That’s a larger pot of money to tap thanks to being a state-level arena-specific funding source. You don’t find that everywhere.ECHL logo

Other locations

Sin Bin also pointed to Hat Trick’s pitch at a sweet looking arena in Fenton, Mo., for ECHL that would seat the same as the Maryland rink. Fenton is a suburb of Saint Louis and has a major interstate going through it, so yeah.

Land of the former Chrysler plant is part of the proposal, but it’s also been bandied about for a St. Louis Rams stadium, another team trying to fleece cities for a taxpayer funded stadium. I just can’t see how you could have ECHL teams in St. Louis, Orlando, Charleston, Norfolk and … Ocean City, Md.

Too bad you can’t see my shocked face because the financing is questionable now for the Fenton ECHL arena because Hat Trick wants the city to own the $45 million arena and its group can run the arena, taking in the profits. Fenton is not a neighborhood of St. Louis–it is a 4,400-resident municipality, which is why local leaders are concerned, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Mayor Mike Polizzi said he did not want the city to have the responsibility of owning the arena, because many of them fail financially.

”They’re talking about 25-year bonds,” and the arena might fail before then, Polizzi said after the meeting. “It’s a major risk and burden for the city.”

“We’re a city of 4,400 including the children,” Polizzi said. “We can’t take on a project of this magnitude.”

If you ever wanted to know the equivalent of a minor league version of an Arizona Coyotes/Glendale business relationship, you found it.

In other news, Casper, Wyo., also has an arena that is finishing up expected to be used for a CHL team before the league merged with the ECHL.

Revisiting a 1986 study on building an ice rink in the Cumberland-Frostburg market

Picture of ice skating on Potomac River in Cumberland between 1905-1919

A crowd gathers to ice skate on the Potomac River in Cumberland, Md., as the Perry Mansion in Ridgeley, W.Va., is viewable in the background, circa 1905-1919. Credit: Western Maryland Historical Library

Nearly 30 years ago, a group of Frostburg State College business students wanted to see if an ice rink could be built in Allegany County.

Cumberland eventually got its own ice rink when the Riverside YMCA became the first YMCA in the nation to run an ice rink dubbed the YMCA Ort Family Ice Arena. That’s the same Ort whose name graces the Lewis J. Ort Library at Frostburg State University. Ort made his fortune in the bread industry, and sliced a loaf of his fortunes for an ice rink at the YMCA. What his connection to hockey was, I’m not quite sure.

The FSU student study is actually called “Marketing Research Feasibility Study on Ice Rink in Western Maryland.” For whatever reason, the authors decided to ignore Garrett and Washington counties, which also make up Western Maryland. Mind you, that these are students. At 26 pages, it’s surprisingly thin. So thin that buried in the paper is a line that more research would need to be done. Uh, mark that an incomplete, buddy.

Fortunately, the YMCA hired a professional consultant, though it didn’t matter much when the board of directors strayed away from his advice.

If you want to read the full study, it is housed in Ort Library’s Special Collections, neatly kept in a blue binder, and I recently had a chance to flip through it to see how well they did their homework and to see how much has changed in 30 years.

Choosing a location

Keep in mind that in 1986, Interstate 68 didn’t exist. The interstate was completed in 1991 but construction was ongoing during this time. It took 20 years and for most of the construction the freeway was U.S. 48.

Where I-68 would be laid was widely available when the students wrote this report as construction was ongoing. How the report completely ignored what I-68 would do for traffic patterns and changing the economy beats me. For that, the students should have earned a F.

What they probably didn’t foresee was the growth of Frostburg’s higher education institution—to the extent dropping College in favor of University because of its expansion and maturity.

The report decided the old 30,000-square-foot A&P Grocery store in LaVale was the prime spot for an ice rink, being a central location for the region, surrounded by the bulk of commercial activity in Allegany. This old grocery store was along Winchester Road and was next to an old shopping center called Sears Town, where Sears once reigned supreme until it moved to the Country Club Mall. Today, this stretch of land has Tractor Supply Company, Kohl’s, Martin’s and Gabriel Brothers, which is in the old Martin’s.

Now, I guess students thought the area would never change because they didn’t provide addresses for any of the places provided. The location of the old A&P was my best guess after talking to coworkers and through some Web searches. The report praised the grocery store’s building shell, traffic counts and was in a premier shopping destination and drew people from Cumberland, Frostburg and from West Virginia.

In Frostburg, the students looked at the Frostburg Armory, 160 S. Water St., and the Frostburg Comfort Inn, which I have no clue what is on that site now. A Comfort Inn is now in LaVale, and Frostburg’s flagged hotels are the Hampton Inn and Days Inn, right next door to each other on Md. 36. Anyone know if this is the same site?

Traffic passing by each of the sites was too low for both places, according to the report, and though the Frostburg Armory was a popular choice by Frostburg State students, its location on a dead-end street and in a non-commercial district put it at the bottom of the list. The Frostburg Armory is located just off campus on Lower Consol Road where yes, there is low-income public housing there today, but those families would at least come up for public skate, which is vital income for an ice rink. It’s also within walking distance of four residence halls and countless off-campus student housing.

Physically, the Armory would be too small. The walls are tight and the ceilings are too low.

Where To Build Today?

If you’re going to build this in Frostburg today, the town has a pothole-filled shopping center anchored by Roses that could serve as a good site, tearing down the former movie theaters. It’s easily accessible to I-68, too, and isn’t too far away from campus. I’d like to think there’s a warehouse somewhere around here that could serve as a good site but I haven’t explored as much to see what’s available. Loopnet, a commercial real estate listing website, doesn’t show much being available either.

There’s also a business park on the campus of Frostburg State with available land. It’s technically part of FSU. FSU owns the land but it’s hard to envision it as part of the campus without a connecting back road or walking trail.

It’s called the Allegany Business Center, off of Braddock Road on Technology Drive. The Allegany Research Center Active Network’s building is the only business building there, housing USGS, the Tri-County Council and tech company The Active Network. FSU also has its energy-conscious SERF building there (I’m an employee of FSU), and the university is in talks to receive permission for a developer to build a hotel there.

It’s deceiving looking at a satellite map knowing how much space is available. Amazingly, 37 acres still on the market. If a hotel comes, knock it down to about 32 acres.

Putting a rink on this land  would put it right off the interstate, beside job offices, beside student apartment housing and potentially beside a hotel. Property south of this closer to the I-68 interchange is being considered to allow a truck stop and a restaurant and other businesses on 25 acres after the road is widened, according to WCBC Radio. Also, senior housing is being planned here, boosting the other end of the population.

Suddenly, this becomes an attractive site. A hotel for visiting teams and tournaments. Students in walking distance for teams and public skating. Employees on site looking for a way to keep active after work, especially in the winter. A truck stop and other businesses bringing people off the interstate.

Down in the Valley

Switching gears back to the study, the 1986 report basically said no to Cumberland because most of the commercial traffic and activity was in LaVale and didn’t even consider any sites in the largest city and most dense population in the county. I’m surprised there wasn’t more digging by the group to consider any site in Cumberland. You can get pretty creative with a site, as long as there are compatible uses. Ice rinks aren’t like most businesses where you need drive-by traffic to be successful.

They need to have some complimentary businesses because the rink is a destination, mainly because it’s like a movie theater where there’s a schedule of when you’re going to go. One of those complimentary businesses? A hotel to house teams coming in for tournaments and people coming in for summer camps. (Hmmm…see above about the Frostburg site.)

Ironically, Cumberland was where the YMCA would build its ice rink for the community until it closed because of financial losses and poor guidance by the board. I always remembered that ice rink being busy despite its location challenges, but it could have been better.

That YMCA isn’t exactly in a central location for Cumberland residents, being tucked away in an industrial park that is surrounded by woods and the Potomac River. No neighboring businesses, no neighbors, really at all. Just for the gym features, the YMCA is not on the way to anything. For the ice rink end of it, there was no place at the end of the street that you could grab a quick bite, a few drinks or run some light errands. But with teams playing there, you went to the Cumberland rink because it was on the schedule.

Why would I choose Cumberland over Frostburg and LaVale? County seat with largest concentrated population in county. Plenty of hotels. Central to schools. Allegany College nearby and closer to Rocky Gap. Multiple interstate exits. Central location to other rinks for road games: Easy access to U.S. 220 to Pennsylvania for games in Johnstown and Altoona. Only 80 minutes to Hagerstown rink.

However, you have higher crime in Cumberland. Petty crime really, the type that’s an annoyance. But the city is all but built out. It’ll be hard to not only find open land but open land in a good neighborhood or not on a dead end street.

With the report focusing on Frostburg and LaVale you have some tradeoffs. More available land (though why not focus on urban renewal in Cumberland knocking down some vacant buildings). You’ll pay less in Frostburg, but will be away from the center of Allegany County. You can still draw people from southern Somerset and Bedford counties in either city, helping out the rink, and can grab more people from Garrett County.

Why would I choose Frostburg over LaVale? Transportation is still a barrier for college students. Not everyone can or will bring a car to campus and while I’ve seen full buses on the Allegany County Transit bus system, the schedule might not be preferable to haul down the road to LaVale for entertainment. It’s better suited for those who work in or around the mall and go to school here. In terms of commuting, the rest of the adult population will drive to any of the towns here to skate, drop off their kids to play hockey or take figure skating lessons or play themselves.

You have to realize that these parents are hauling their kids to games and tournaments 90 minutes to two-plus hours away every weekend. A difference of 10 to 15 minutes for their home rink isn’t going to matter in this region given that the closest rinks are 80 minutes away. But the adult programs, especially the growing novice leagues, rely more heavily on local residents.

Why would I choose LaVale over Frostburg? Much of Frostburg is built over old coal mines. If your soil and bedrock analysis is off and you choose the wrong spot in town, building costs can soar to a tune of $1 million to get concrete support poured deep enough into the ground. Key buildings at Frostburg State University—particularly newer, taller ones—have such support and costs have gone up because of the issue with coal mines. And yes, you have more hotels and retail in LaVale to help visibility of the rink.

The surveys

If I couldn’t be more clear, this survey is from 30 years ago, so gathering hard data wasn’t as easy. So, a mail-in survey and a poll was taken to see if a rink would even be viable. Area residents, college students and high school students were asked to respond in three separate surveys.

The sample size is weak given the population, not even considering student population, in 1986. Only 54 out of 200 area residents returned their mail-in survey. The sample size margin of error for what was an 80,000-person county is about 20 percent. Oof.

You need a 10 percent return on the population size for an acceptable—3 percent—margin of error for survey results. That means you needed 8,000 people to respond. That also means you need to ask 16,000 people to take the survey if you think 50 percent of them will take it. If you think only 27 percent will take the survey, just like what happened here, you need to ask about 29,000 people take the survey in order to get 8,000 responses.

Now that we got that disclaimer out of the way, only 5 percentage points separated LaVale over the Frostburg Comfort Inn site, according to the mail survey. Would there be more separation or would the number sway or tighten up? We need more data.

The college survey, which had 100 respondents, isn’t too bad. I can’t find the college population then but hey, tuition cost $1,500 a semester back then, so there’s that. Those college students favored the Armory by nearly 20 percentage points more than the Comfort Inn, yet high schoolers surveyed in the region wanted the rink to be in LaVale but Cumberland and the Comfort Inn also had significant votes. High schoolers surveyed were mainly from Cumberland (89 percent), Oldtown (5 percent) and Rawlings (3 percent).

A high schooler survey would look dramatically different today with more students, and really, should include high schoolers in extreme southern Bedford and Somserset counties and in Garrett County. I’m intrigued by an idea to build a year-round rink at Wisp Ski Resort to add to the tourism there but the lower year-round population puts a damper on those efforts.

Other than that, the surveys asked if people have ever skated before—a majority have despite no skating rinks in the region—and many of them owned skates. And of course, they want public skating on the weekends and evenings. At least somethings never change.

The details

Beyond asking the general population, there are other data points a survey done today needs to consider for viability and expenses:

  • Registered USA Hockey members in the surrounding counties
  • Registered US Figure Skating members in the surrounding counties
  • Credits or grants for alternative and renewable energy power
  • Navigating costs associated with the Affordable Care Act
  • Cost of rental skates and showers, something left out of the report. (At least scoreboard and Zamboni were included.)

I know this was just a marketing study, but there are other costs that have to be considered for viability or at least, knowing what you’re working with. I think rinks get into the red so bad in the first few years because they haven’t budgeted for utility costs (especially water and cooling), revenue strategies to bring in tournaments/events, advertising costs and maintenance costs for the first few years.

The students made five assumptions that would make the rink successful, with one being some sort of government financing for part of the project. In today’s economy, that’s probably not going to happen. The Washington Times wrote a piece in March on how much ice rinks cost taxpayers (though the same could be said for golf courses and pools). But the underlying issue with most rinks is that the local governments aren’t funding a key marketing/fundraising position or finding the right people to make it successful. You’ll see in the piece how Evanston, Ill., is hiring someone to fundraise and market the community center that includes the rink to bring in more events and revenue.

If you don’t have someone in that position before you’re opening a rink, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You could tell because of some of that lacking information, the report didn’t cite anyone who was an expert in ice rink management or consulting that could offer advice and other factors to consider. The only person quoted as a source was an economic development director, who knows enough about real estate and buying power but not enough about the inner workings of a rink. (And I haven’t gone into the entire proper management issues that I extensively wrote about here before plus the public versus private considerations.) So, if you’re going to write a market study to see if an ice rink is viable in a certain market, you ought to talk to and quote someone who has managed rinks.

Revisiting the Cumberland rink, the YMCA hired Jack R. Vivian as a consultant to get it up and running thanks to his experience with other successful rinks. Here’s how that relationship turned out, according to a 1998 Herald-Mail story when Vivian was hired to manage the Hagerstown Ice and Sports Complex:

Vivian, 56, also conducted a feasibility study for the YMCA ice rink in Cumberland, Md., and helped design it. YMCAs know how to run gyms, pools and fitness centers, but had no history with ice rinks, so Vivian was hired, said Laurie Robinson, the Cumberland YMCA’s chief executive officer.

Vivian taught YMCA officials how to set up the rink and schedule programs, she said. The YMCA only strayed from Vivian’s advice a couple of times and always regretted it, Robinson said.

Vivian quit managing the Hagerstown rink after a year because his firm wasn’t getting paid. A lot of bills weren’t getting paid by the Hagerstown rink at that time but after a few management changes are on the right track. In 2005, the Cumberland rink saw its final season. The YMCA later decided in 2006 that the ice rink wouldn’t return.

I’d like to believe that an ice rink is still viable in this region if it’s in the right hands, which is asking a lot. I challenge someone to do a new study to figure out if it truly is or if I’m delirious.

I’ll pitch in my time, too, to help. Even better, but if someone knows how to raise $4 million for a new rink and wants to build on here, let’s talk.

Updated 5/17/16 to add info about the Allegany Business Center.