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.

 

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Exclusive: Ellenton, Fla., ice rink sold

Update:

Ellenton Ice has sold for $6 million to American Ice Rinks Ellenton LLLP, according to a deed filed with the Manatee County Clerk.

The full price is $6,020,000.

American Ice Rinks is the same owner as the Space Coast Iceplex, as originally reported, and business documents show that both rinks are registered to Matthew Smith. The deed also reveals that the seller, Mike Bennett and business partner Marv Kaplan, retain some rights over the electronic billboard they bought and constructed at the rink. That’s a prime billboard on a heavily traveled interstate at an exit shared with the Ellenton Premium Outlets.

Smith and his wife Natalia Smith acquired the Brevard County ice rink in 2014, according to FloridaToday.com.

The Smiths are well versed in ice rinks and competitive ice skating, the website reported:

Before arriving in Brevard, Matt Smith spent 15 years managing and operating an ice rink in San Diego. Both he and his wife have experience as skating coaches and were competitive figure skaters.

Matt Smith was the Junior National Champion of Canada in Figure Skating and spent four years on the Canadian national skating team. He has coached Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen, as well as other world-class athletes. His wife, Natalia Smith, set the Guinness World Record for the fastest spin on ice skates.

Because of their clout in the international skating community, the Smiths could boost the profile of the iceplex’s skating programs.

On the figure skating side, this sounds like a perfect fit for the Smiths. Ellenton Ice has regularly been the training home for Olympic skaters. Among those who trained in Ellenton include pairs Nathan Bartholomay and Felicia Zhang in Sochi, Mark Ladwig and Amanda Evora in Vancouver, Jeremy Barrett and Caydee Denney in Vancouver (both Florida natives!) plus Canadians Paige Lawrence and Rudy Sweigers along with Brits David King and Stacy Kemp also train at the rink for the Olympics and other competitions.

That’s a program they can directly affect the most. Youth hockey is almost on autopilot between having adult organizations and now the Tampa Bay Lightning being heavily involved in high school leagues and conducting camps. The Bolts are also providing a retired Lightning player to help co-coach each high school team.

Adult hockey? That remains to be seen. I don’t know how they handled it at Space Coast, but the director of adult hockey at Ellenton, Bill Walleshauser, wasn’t immediately rehired, according to his Facebook page.

I don’t know if Smith is bringing his own guy over from Brevard to run the program, or having someone else double duties locally, but it’s a touchy decision for some folks.

The rink has adult programs running on two sheets with six leagues, A through D plus a 30+ league. That’s a lot of people to manage, a lot of refs to schedule and having to deal with suspensions and other beer league drama.

What I’m most interested in is what Smith’s vision is for the vacant sports bar, which has had a revolving door of tenants even from the rink’s very start as the J.P. Igloo. Fun fact: The original restaurant that was supposed to be housed in that space was a R.J. Gators, which went out of business entirely as a chain then was revived in Bradenton.

Also, there’s an indoor lacrosse/soccer space in Ellenton Ice, too, that will have to be managed, along with a gym upstairs. They could use new flooring, maybe finally replacing the old Igloo logo at the entrance.

My pet peeve when I lived down there — cosmetically speaking — was this hockey player statue that was breaking through the side of the building facing Interstate 75. It’s painted in old Mighty Ducks of Anaheim colors because it was the uniform of an old youth or junior team when the rink opened. It really needs to be repainted to reflect the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Anyway, after reading and sharing stories about a slew of rink closures in Pittsburgh and Johnstown, it’s nice to see a rink staying open after being purchased.

Original:

Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in Ellenton, Fla., has been sold to the owners of the Space Coast Iceplex in Rockledge, Fla. Price hasn’t been disclosed but not all employees have been rehired.

The ice rink has long been on the market, owned by Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett through his company MJ Squared, and business partner Marv Kaplan.

The asking price on Loopnet, a commercial real estate listings site, last year was $12.5 million. The rink recently went a minor renovation and installed a video billboard to bring in revenue beside Interstate 75 but a space for a restaurant has been vacant for at least three years. It was last occupied by Ellenton Steakhouse.

 

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.

Report: Planet Ice rink near Johnstown to close in July

When Cambria County’s population data revealed that it has the highest population decline of any Pennsylvania county in the last five years, you knew that meant some businesses have or will close because there aren’t enough people and dollars to support them.

Unfortunately, one of those victims is Planet Ice in Richland Township, right across from the Johnstown Galleria mall.

The Tribune-Democrat reports the rink will close July 31, 2016, and its Zamboni and equipment will be donated to Cambria County, which owns the other two rinks in town.

The ice rink already shut down its Facebook and Twitter pages, which would ultimately be filled with a lot of upset comments and a few spewing something nasty. However, it would also be a place for people looking for answers.

The paper also reports that the owners, who bought the rink in 2010 to avoid a closure then, will convert the rink to something else.

The War Memorial was already in danger of shuttering if not for the miraculous Hockeyville funding and additional government funding for improvements. And it will remain to be seen if that will be enough.

The War Memorial will see an uptick of business, however, while it will try to accommodate some programs, those time slots might take away from high-revenue events that pack the arena as opposed to beer league games.

The closure will also bring closure to a series of posts I wrote about how the North Central Recreation Center rink in Ebensburg was barely open. Maybe it would be open for 1-3 hours a night.

The NCRC and War Memorial are both owned by the county and managed by a private firm, SMG. The new manager hired in December said the North Central rink would be used to its maximum potential, and well, he’s certainly correct. He didn’t even have to seek out anything.

About 40 minutes northeast, Galactic Ice in Altoona will also likely gain some business, too.

The Hagerstown (Md.) Ice and Sports Complex sometimes has maybe 2-3 guys who also play in Johnstown from time to time because of where they live in Pennsylvania and they happen to work near the rink. That rink might pick up at maximum 5 players spread across various programs if any.

Overall, the ice rink business is in flux in Western Pennsylvania.

The Ice Mine near Connellsville is for sale, and its unknown if a new buyer would keep it as a rink.

There have been various changes, closures and sales for Pittsburgh area rinks, too, all the while a new one is being proposed near the University of Pittsburgh. Plus, the new Lemieux UMPC rink opened north of Pittsburgh in Cranberry Township last year.

For folks in the greater Cumberland, Md., area, Planet Ice’s closure removes yet another option who didn’t want to travel to Galactic Ice or the Hagerstown rink. Or Morgantown’s rink for those living closer to Frostburg.

Hopefully the bleeding of rinks will end soon, but there will likely be more pain soon.

Connellsville Rink The Ice Mine For Sale

10371444_1062888233749955_7765632009763016524_n.jpgOwners of The Ice Mine in Fayette County, Pa., are actively looking for a buyer for the complex, according to a post on the rink’s Facebook page.

The post thwarted rumors that the complex is shuttering and instead explaining the normal reduced schedule for the summer is coming as the ice will be removed until likely September.

The rink, located south of Connellsville, could be yours for $2.27 million, according to the flyer. That includes the Olympic-sized rink, a roller skating rink, a gym, office space and party rooms, showers, locker rooms, Olympia ice resurfacers and the rink’s naming and branding rights.

The Ice Mine is owned by a business consulting company called Approach Advisors, reviving the once shuttered rink caught in a court battle from its previous owners. You can read about the colorful history of The Ice Mine in a post I wrote in September.

Is that price a deal or nah?

It’s hard to quantify that value sitting on my couch. The Fayette County Property Search did not bring up records for 5001 W. Crawford Ave., or 5001 SR 1051 for that matter. Maybe user error or website error–who knows. Without that, it’s hard to give a baseline of what the county think the property is worth from a taxable standpoint.

About an hour away, the Airport Ice Arena in Moon Township, Pa., was put up for sale back in 2007. According to a flyer by Oxford Realty Services, the 82,000-square-foot ice rink was built in 1995 and sits on 9 acres. The price was advertised for $3.5 million on this flyer, which listed other uses for the site other than as a rink.

However, this 2007 Beaver County Times article points out that price could inflate in different packages, according to owner Jim Lignelli:

The property is listed through GVA Oxford, of Pittsburgh, at $4.5 million for the business and land.

If the property is sold to continue as an ice rink, the price is raised to $5.2 million to cover special-purpose features such as the Zamboni machine that resurfaces the ice and the liquor license, Lignelli said.

A user on a Western Pennsylvania Hockey message board posted on March 14 that the rink sold, but the post is unclear on when the rink sold, to whom and for how much.

A poster noted that another firm, Howard Hanna Realty, had the rink listed for $6.25 million. There may be some truth to at least the sale closing because the listing is inactive now and you can only view a cached version.

Is it weird how the price climbed over the years while on the market, even coming out of a recession?

Anyway, whomever buys the property has to have the cash to sink into it for improvements if they want to keep the ice rink up and running for the long haul.

Refrigeration, air conditioning and insulation needs improved (witnessed fog on the ice last year in the summer along with ice separated from the boards).

Rubber flooring for skates need to be installed in the locker rooms and throughout that hallway and leading to the rink.

The showers need to be cleaned up. The water fountains need replaced or repaired, along with adding a couple of water fountains to fill your bottle easily.

The sinks in the restrooms need to be replaced or repaired. And it would be nice to have soap to wash your hands. Heck, doors instead of shower curtains for the toilet stalls would be awesome, too.

I don’t know how the rest of the facility looks like or its condition asides from the lobby and the gravel parking lot. That gravel lot could use a paving job, though.

It’s admirable that the owners were able to reopen the facility and keep it available for the community. And there’s now some hope new owners will have money and energy to fix up the rink and improve its branding and image.

 

Being the Thunder in the Burg

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The last time I saw a hockey game at the Consol Energy Center was 2011 when the Hershey Bears beat the Wilkes-Barre Penguins 1-0. Somehow Braden Holtby stopped this puck. (By Charles Schelle)

I’m dusting off the blog for a game I’m pumped to see.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday at Consol Energy Center, and it will be my first time seeing a NHL game in that arena.

And even more special, Steven Stamkos has a chance to pot his 300th goal.

There’s so much to like about this game.

Stamkos vs. Crosby; Bishop vs. Fleury; Hedman vs. Letang; Kessel vs. Kucherov

And it’s a 12:30 p.m., game so I get to enjoy my day!

Thankfully I’m seeing the Bolts as a visitor at somewhere other than the Verizon Center, where I root for my longtime team in D.C., but there’s a slight sense of guilt as you favor one child over another.

But the oldest has yet to succeed.

So, part of this visit is as I mentioned above, officially marking off the Consol Energy Center on my NHL arena list. I saw the Hershey Bears take on the Baby Pens there in 2011 and a NCAA game the same day, but I can’t count those in good standing with the standards I made up. Even if they were lower level seats.

I managed to see the Pens and Maple Leafs in Mellon Arena before that was demolished, though.

As much as I dislike the Pens, I vividly remember details of the arena because I was so impressed with it. The high school jerseys, the Lemieux display, the Captain Morgan lounge, the great views and that they not only serve LaBatt Blue on tap, but the Tim Horton’s cart has Timbits. I got to have my creature comforts, man.

If you see a guy in a white Bolts jersey in 203, A right on the aisle, that’s me. That’s upper level center ice–perfect view.

If, by chance, you’re a Bolts fan visiting Pittsburgh for the first time, here are some recommendations of places to visit or try:

Take a ride on the Duquesne Incline. It’s an old vertical passenger car used to bring people from top the hill on Mount Washington down to the South Side. Spectacular view on clear days.

  • Visit the National Aviary. That’s a fancy word for a bird zoo, but there are some cool ass birds here. Penguin aren, natch. But there’s a room where a bunch of tropical birds will just fly everywhere around you, and if you’re in luck, they might shit on you. There’s also a new California Condor exhibit that’s up and running.
  • Get holy drunk at Church Brew Works. It’s a brewery inside a historic church, whose architecture was preserved to the point it won a preservation award. The stills are in the monastery, they have a great food menu and you can take a growler to go. There’s just so much to take in here. The confessional as a merchandise booth. The bar top that’s an old pew. The flights of beer! This place always seems to be busy. Good luck if you can find parking in the neighborhood.
  • Have some brats and beers at Hofbrauhaus. There used to be just three in the U.S., modeled after the Munich beer house of the same name, from the beermaker Hofbrau. They recently opened up shop in St. Petersburg at the old Tampa Bay Times cafeteria building, so a little less special now they expanded, but come here for a great time and some polka music. The neighborhood as other shops and restaurants to check out, too.

Enjoy the Steel City and the game and Be The Thunder!

Post-Game Edit: 

They took out Tim Horton’s and replaced all the carts with Dunkin’ Donuts! The travesty!

I will say this, though. The configuration of the DD cart is superior. You line up, pick up a cup and pump your own coffee out and press for half and half or cream and you can open up a little case with a variety of full-size donuts.

From what I recall from my single visit, Timmy’s only had Timbits available. In Tampa, that cart only had coffee or hot chocolate. Both would be served in fabulous overpriced souvenir cups. DD just had your standard, affordable but environmentally insensitive styrofoam cup.

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

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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.

 

North Central Recreation Center to be used to ‘maximum potential’

Expect to see more activity at the North Central Recreation Center’s ice rink in 2016.

New General Manager Steve St. John e-mailed me after seeing my message to Cambria County Commissioners of suggestions for activities at the rink saying that the community ice rink will be busier.

“I would like to tell you things will be handled much differently going forward,” St. John wrote. “I plan to utilize the facility to its maximum potential. You should see changes as soon as I can make a few moves after the first of the year.”

I’d like to celebrate but will reserve judgment when I see the results. He at least seems determined and receptive to suggestions and change, which is partially why he was brought in to take over. The other reason being SMG lost its contract to an Idaho arena to a competing company, so St. John was effectively without a job there.

 

Change afoot at North Central Recreation Center near Johnstown?

ncrc_exterior_004

The North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg, Pa., will have a new manager but from the same management company, SMG.

It looks like some progress could be coming to changing how a part-time ice rink is being managed near Johnstown, Pa.

The Tribune-Democrat reported Tuesday, Dec. 1 that SMG has reassigned Steve St. John from its Ford Idaho Center in Nampa, Idaho, to manage both the Cambria County War Memorial Center in Johnstown and the North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg, Pa.

St. John takes over for Thomas Grenell, who worked in some capacity at the arena since 1996. Grenell was hired by SMG as the general manager in 2003.

Grenell praised his use of analytics-based scheduling using a “Moneyball” theory predicated on those famous Billy Bean Oakland Athletics. The issue with his analytics is that it reduces risk so much, that it takes away more revenue opportunities. It appeared to have targeted a break-even approach instead of scheduling a “Moneyball” strategy to produce a surplus of money. That would be a novel approach, but even that failed as the county continues to subsidized both the rink and the arena.

That same article said Grenell used free labor from people on probation needing to perform community service to help stage and set-up concerts. Creative. But desperate.

That 2014 story linked to above also only cited money going back to the city in form of a 5 percent amusement tax that is collected instead of looking at the total revenue to offset expenses to the county, who’s paying the bills. Who knows what the number would have ended up being because a budget for this fiscal year wasn’t passed until days to go, the paper reported in August. That’s an interesting Moneyball play in itself.

Back to analytics for a minute. Similar to certain analytics in hockey, Grenell’s approach to scheduling appeared to only factor in how much money people want to spend on major events that are from Johnstown, and probably a certain radius. I’ll be generous.

While the arena was dark for weeks at a time, the NCRC was like a closed mine shaft. Programming for events at the NCRC should have looked at schedules from Planet Ice and Galactic Ice and said “well, if they are having pick-up hockey on Tuesday morning, I’ll schedule a session on Wednesday night because not everyone will show up to a morning skate because of work. And I’ll get some people who play in a league game on other days.”

In other words, just because one rink offers one time slot of something I like to do, it doesn’t mean I’m going to it. And it doesn’t mean it’s capturing everyone who wants to do that one activity, like pick-up hockey or stick-and-shoot. With two other rinks in the area, though, you do have to do some research looking at what leagues play on what days and what kind of crowd you can expect to draw. Most guys would at least like a day’s rest between games and a practice-like session. The younger, fit guys can do back-to-backs.

I’m somewhat OK with an arena being dark on certain days because of the size, even 4,000 seats being considered small. I’m not OK with an indoor community ice rink treating itself like an arena, being closed for most of the day and week, as it’s supposed to provide lower-cost recreation for the public.

SMG was motivated to move manager

The Tribune-Democrat’s Tuesday report fails to mention that the reason why St. John was available is that SMG lost its Idaho Center contract to Spectra. Spectra took over arena operations on Oct. 1, according to Venues Today, leaving St. John without a job there.

While the Tribune-Democrat writes a mostly rosy profile, it skimps on what this means for the North Central Recreation Center. I wrote about the North Central Recreation Center rink on Nov. 19, wondering aloud how a rink can even operate or function having one or two events per day given its utility costs.

Prior to writing that post, an assistant manager told me via e-mail that the rink doesn’t have a full schedule because the decrease in youth hockey programs in area schools. I can accept that, but I can’t accept that the rink hasn’t attempted the dozen-plus options I listed to provide public programs.

building

The Cambria County War Memorial Arena tried a “Moneyball” approach to scheduling. It didn’t exactly work.

On the same day, I emailed the Cambria County Commissioners with my concerns and I heard back on Nov. 23 that they were forwarded to the commissioners and the Cambria County War Memorial Authority, which oversees the management company’s handling of the rinks, and to SMG.

It’s unclear if the authority met Tuesday. I can’t find a public agenda or schedule for this group online. I’d love to hear more about what is happening at these meetings and will contact the county to learn more.

In the meantime, I sent the county the list of ideas from my previous post now that there are some new ears willing to listen.

As for Grenell, the Tribune-Democrat doesn’t say whether SMG was fired or being reassigned to another position at another rink.

What St. John has done elsewhere

Just from what I’m glancing at on the Web, it looks like St. John is one of those managers who goes to a rink to turn it around for the company to help SMG keep its contract and moves on to the next rink/arena that needs help. For whatever reason, the situations have not been stable.

St. John only spent a year in Idaho and was with Germain Arena in Estero, Fla., which I’m quite familiar with. I attended a few ECHL Florida Everblades games there, researched its history and ties to a failed arena in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., and tore a ligament in my right knee during a stick-and-shoot. Maybe I remember it too well. The memory still burns.

Anyway, St. John was the vice president of event programming at Germain. It’s operated by a company that oversees both the Florida Everblades and the arena, and both have been on the market since 2013 when Peter Karmanos Jr., wanted to exit. Later, Karmanos decided he also wanted to get out of hockey altogether and sell the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.

The arena has a few things going for it that the War Memorial doesn’t. It’s newer (built in 1998), it’s larger, it’s in a bustling area with a wealthier population and it’s in Southwest Florida.

Everyone from Luke Bryan to WWE has had shows there in addition to the ECHL hockey. The Kelly Cup Finals have been played there, too. And the arena has a follow-on rink that is open to the community and can be walked to via the concourse of the arena. Sidney Crosby has scheduled informal camps there during the summer with fellow pros, and the Tampa Bay Lightning has held camp there, too.

I’m hopeful.

St. John helped start up a bar/nightclub in the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville, Ky., which drew the ire of local businesses. It was a creative move that in most cities wouldn’t be cause for concern, but considering the economic challenges in Pikeville and the surrounding communities, folks need every penny they can get.

In Nampa, Idaho, about 15 minutes west of Boise, the arena didn’t do hockey and instead focused mostly on college track meets, rodeo, concerts and basketball when it could. The ECHL Idaho Steelheads play in Boise’s small 5,000-seat arena. Even a new, shiny arena couldn’t be helped. Nampa taxpayers subsidized the arena to around $1 million or more the last few years, according to the Idaho Press.

Cambria County is subsidizing both the rink and the NCRC at about $150,000, depending on who you believe. I can’t imagine how Grenell would report the $600,000 in capital fund grants provided by Pennsylvania state agencies in the arena’s budget. Or Hockeyville prize money.

After what it seems like me dumping on the Trib-Dem, I will give reporter Dave Sutor credit for that August story detailing the discord and dysfunction with SMG’s handling of the arena. I empathize with reporters who walk into board meetings and have different people using different standards of reporting money, trying to make sense of who’s in the right. And your editor will say, “figure it out.” It’s also why you call a third-party source who can give context and point you in the right direction.

As long as St. John can point the NCRC in the right direction, then I’d be satisfied. And I can stop posting about this.