A Return Visit to The Ice Mine

Sunday began with the intentions to play some pond hockey  but with the wind chill at -10 F, I realized that there is such a thing as too cold for hockey.

As a last minute decision, I decided to take a buddy up to The Ice Mine for some stick time. I haven’t been there in months and haven’t been there since new ownership came in.

The rink that reminded me of where “Slap Shot” could have been staged, is getting some much needed attention.

Some very basic and others grandiose. I’ve only been on the ice rink side of the building, so I don’t know what the roller rink and other space have going on.

(And it turns out it can also be too cold to think. I forgot to take photos.)

Other than a fresh coat of deep purple paint that makes the curb appeal more attractive, you can’t miss the big project once you see the ice rink and stands.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Ftheicemine%2Fposts%2F1243775615661215%3A0&width=500

Look behind the players in the photo above and you see a section of the stands being enclosed. When I arrived, there was blue siding in front of the wood, and the main area had windows installed. The main enclosure was pretty much finished.

I don’t know what the full plan is,but I like it. Just enclosing a space with more comfortable seating could make this place more enjoyable watching your kids practice. On a day like today, where it was still bitter ass cold inside the rink, a hockey dad told me that it didn’t feel like hot air was coming off the heaters above the bleachers because it was so cold.

Other than that, improvements are small for now. Just simple things like putting in a functional faucet in the restroom is a huge upgrade. I was happy to see that plus soap and paper towels in there. Before, it just had a motion detection faucet that dribbled water.

There’s still a ton to do to make it comfortable. (Doors instead of plastic shower curtains in the bathroom stalls, new shower flooring, rubber flooring in the locker rooms, working water fountain near locker room.) It isn’t cheap just keeping up with maintenance for a regular rink, and it’s certainly not going to be cheap bringing the rink up to expectations, but it’s great to see progress being made.

Once it gets there, a hockey dad and I said as these changes occur, it’s important to instill respect for the facility into the kids skating and playing hockey. Once you make it nice, make sure the kids keep it nice and don’t destroy the place.

Now that my schedule has freed up a bit more, I hope to be back soon.

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.

 

 

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.

 

Is Anybody Home at North Central Recreation Center?

ncrc_exterior_004July 4, 2017 Update:

It might have taken a little longer, but full credit to NCRC turning things around.

The rink now has a dedicated website, northcentralrec.com that has an easy-to-read schedule.

The ice slots are filling up, and I’m exited to see regular pick-up hockey scheduled.

What do you make of the changes?


2016 Updates: 
Operations have sorted themselves out since this original article. The NCRC will be booked to pretty much its maximum because Planet Ice closed is scheduled to close on July 31.

Before that, the rink’s operator installed a new manager, who told me changes will be coming and it will be fully utilized. That was before Planet Ice’s closure.

 

Original:

Yes, that’s a legitimate question you have to ask yourself about the North Central Recreation Center near Johnstown, Pa.

Is anybody home?

Likely not.

I debated writing about a place I haven’t visited yet, but when the barrier of finding out a schedule becomes so great, it forced my hand.

I finally received a response Nov. 19 after I tried calling and emailing the rink and its management company headquarters in the spring. I gave up during the summer and tried again this week and received a response the next day.

Let’s cut to the chase: A government-owned recreation center whose management is outsourced to a private company is not open for business every day.

For a better part of the year—and the better part of each day—it sits idle.

A manager confirmed to me in an email that yes, the rink is not open daily. She said in a follow-up response that they financially cannot run both the War Memorial Arena and NCRC full-time. Part of the reason to blame is that “hockey leagues at the school level have decreased.”

It’s an indoor rink, so it’s not like they’re battling the elements.

As much maligned I found the efforts at Morgantown Ice Arena battling technology issues from a decade ago by using technology from 30 years ago, the North Central Recreation Center in Ebensburg, Pa., somehow makes it worse.

I will give Morgantown this: after visiting the rink, I found that they are so busy with programs for youth, college and adult hockey plus figure skating and public skate, there isn’t any room left for other programs. Morgantown needs a second sheet of ice, more staff and a technology upgrade, along with some customer service improvements.

The North Central Recreation Center, however, is managed by a conglomerate called SMG. They manage some impressive stadiums and arenas, mostly minor league facilities save for a NBA arena here and there plus Soldier Field in Chicago and Everbank Field in Jacksonville.

You might know them better as Spectacor Management Group, or maybe its older name, Comcast Spectacor before it broke off from Comcast. That’s the arena management group based in a Philadelpia suburb founded by Flyers owner Ed Snider, who sold his stake in 1997. Today, hotel company Hyatt and concession operator Aramark run the arena management company.

I just can’t see how a company that large can allocate enough resources to run a recreation center with care. It’s beginning to show in Cambria County, where SMG also runs the storied War Memorial Arena in Johnstown—now Hockeyville USA.

You’re open, when?

Look, everyone knows how much money it takes to run an ice rink. The utility costs to keep rink cold, the lobby and locker rooms heated and the showers run isn’t cheap.

It’s certainly possible that when this giant company looked at the books and what they could schedule for ice time, they would lose less money by closing the rink for most of the day to avoid paying staff to stand around with empty ice.

That is so dire, I wonder what keep the rink open at all. Why are they not being more aggressive bringing events to the rink?

My curiosity into what exactly goes on at the rink started where I always begin: looking for the schedule.

Schedule of Events page  lists public skate times and then pricing for parties. And if you want to book a party or get more information, the page says to call between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

This is what that message signals to me: We want your business but only if you can call during a three-hour window during the busiest time of your weekend, likely during a birthday party we’re trying to prepare for anyway.

The amenities page also shows that “Will be developing learn-to-skate and hockey programs.” Who knows when this was last updated. I guess they really didn’t need to update it since they don’t exist?

In the navigation bar, an ice rental link lands you on a Google spreadsheet that gives more insight.

You’ll see public skate times along with father and son stick and shoot, plus practice and game times for high school and youth hockey teams for every single day. Well, every day the rink is open.

Take another look at the spreadsheet and you’ll notice that most days have one event listed. Sometimes two or three. Yes, they are listing private ice rentals, too. If this spreedsheet is accurate, how the hell is a rink operating and making money hosting one event a day?

Be different

Public recreation facilities being managed by a private or non-government not-for-profit agency isn’t uncommon.

Other places, whether it’s a ball field or golf course or rowing facility, have to balance opening facilities for public use and creating revenue through booking events or leagues or camps to offset expenses. The philosophy and justification can get touch with open space parks.

For ice rinks, if you are managing a public ice rink, you ought to be designing programs that are open for admission to the general public rather than closing the facility completely for part of the day.

That means going beyond public skate and father-son stick time.

Broomball, drop-in figure skating, speed skating, drop-in hockey, stick time that’s not being limited to fathers and sons, which does nothing to be inclusive to girls. Or mothers for that matter.

The manager simply gave me that the going rate for drop-in is $165, implying that I’m going to have to rent the ice.

Instead, the rink is looking for its traditional revenue streams and packs it in when they naturally don’t come their way.

Social Media Communication

The social media game is just as weak.

Points for some effort in at least posting reminders about the schedule, but it’s always the same events unless they need to promote some event at the War Memorial.

When a customer has a question, there is never a response either. Parents asking who to contact for birthday parties, how much admission is, or asking if there will be a winter session for learn to skate.

Then there’s this confusing proposition from Sept. 22 where the rink says come on out for Learn To Skate and Learn To Play Hockey from 5 to 6 p.m. … Uh, you really shouldn’t have both groups on ice, even if you’re splitting them up on half ice. This sounds like a disaster.

Scrolling back to June 8, the page advertises that they had ice in until August and were still trying to get people to buy ice. And that’s it.

I mean, I sure hope they had camps or clinics booked for the summer, being the bread and butter of summer revenue. But nothing else?

There was no message saying the ice is down when that time came and no message that the rink reopened. Just simple, simple stuff.

Contract woes

buildingAt least I have an answer to why SMG is running a county-owned facility. Cambria County government was desperate to keeping the War Memorial Arena afloat and a study said the arena should be operated by a private company that would also help keep the Johnstown Chiefs in town, according to a 2009 story in The Tribune-Democrat.  As part of the deal, SMG would also operate the North Central Recreation Center, according to the report.

The ECHL Chiefs left town anyway, and instead a mid-level junior team Johnstown Tomahawks came in. And the former director of the War Memorial was sentenced to prison for fraud, according to the paper.

It’s unclear when the contract with SMG ends. One report says it ended in summer 2014, but an editorial in August says the contract is being discussed now.

At any rate, the Johnstown newspaper advocated for a private company to continue to operate the NCRC, but didn’t endorse SMG to be that company:

If the commissioners and arena authority truly believe SMG is failing to meet its obligations, then they should take steps to find another private contractor to take SMG’s place.

The War Memorial can’t go backward to the days of an authority-hired manager controlling all facets of operation with no checks and balances– and no corporate structure that expects profitability.

SMG is on notice that its work and the results it is showing are being questioned.

The editorial also visits the fuzzy math by the company, showing that it ran a profit when it was receiving a conveniently timed bailout by the state and county to help pay for Hockeyville repairs at the War Memorial that weren’t covered by the prize money so a nationally televised NHL pre-season game could be played.

I’m sure the company will brag to commissioners that NCRC is running at a profit…because it’s closed for most of the year.

Too many rinks?

The only thing I can think to say at this point is Why does this rink exist?

I think I finally found a place where simply, there are too many ice rinks.

In Johnstown, you have the War Memorial Arena downtown. The junior team plays there and a few other youth teams play there—mainly because of the historic nature of the facility, tradition and the allure. Everyone wants to say they played in the “Slap Shot” arena. And more teams might want to play there after the Hockeyville renovations.

You also have Planet Ice, right off U.S. 219 and beside a shopping mall, about 8 miles southeast of the War Memorial.

Both of those rinks are 20 minutes south of NCRC.

Galactic Ice in Altoona is about 30 minutes east,off of Interstate 99.

The Indiana University of Pennsylvania rink is 45 minutes northeast.

All of those rinks have single sheets.

Just take Blair, Cambria and Indiana counties’ combined population, and it’s over 300,000, but spread out quite a ways in mountainous terrain and a couple valleys. The counties have challenge with finding enough higher paying jobs and a drastic decline of population in the city of Johnstown after steel and other jobs left town.

Is the rink necessary? It doesn’t sound like it.

Alternative Programming

It becomes more necessary if a few things happen.

Let’s step away from things that take boatloads of money, like attracting a ECHL team.

Can you focus on specialized programs?

Offer something the other rinks don’t.

  • Instead of stick-and-shoot and pick-up, offer a skills and drills. This isn’t a Learn To Play for people getting on the ice for a first time. The first hour is drills to improve skating, passing and shooting while the second hour is a scrimmage.
  • For the high-skill players, seek out your elite coaches or find trainers who can provide next-level instruction and difficult drills to push these players to the next level. Highly specialized individual skill training that you don’t get in competitive hockey where systems are taught more at the high school level.
  • Do the same for goaltenders by finding a goaltending coach to host goalie training sessions.
  • Partner with an institution or retired pros and become a hockey academy.
  • Spend some money and start a broomball program, starting off with pick-up broomball. It doesn’t require skates and it’s actually fun. Very popular with middle through high school students.
  • Become a site to host sled hockey for both kids and wounded veterans.
  • Advertise with U.S. Figure Skating and reach out to coaches and Olympians that your ice is available, and plenty of it. Actually, go beyond U.S. Figure Skating and advertise to other countries because Canadian and British figure skaters are even training at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in Florida. Yes, there are many advantages to being in Florida, but the ice time is available here. And the ice doesn’t turn to soup.
  • Offer a Learn To Drive The Zamboni School. Several rinks do it because it’s so fun and cool. Here’s a video I did in 2011 about one such class in Laurel, Md.

 

Hail Mary

You could consider it a miracle that the War Memorial won the first Hockeyville USA contest, giving the arena hundreds of thousands of dollars of upgrades, possibly saving the arena.

The national spotlight surely has more calls coming in. The busier the War Memorial is, the busier NCRC can be.

So, here’s another miracle: a relocated ECHL team.

Thanks to the Hockeyville upgrades, and a new subfloor being installed in summer 2016, the community has a better chance of attracting a ECHL team. That eats up 36 nights plus ice time for morning skate and practice for the home and visiting teams.

I give this a 0.5 percent chance of happening. And be careful with what you wish for. What you want is this in addition to the Tomahawks games because the difference between the two is about 10 nights.

Or, SMG steps up its game bringing in other events and forcing more ice activities at NCRC. From scanning online, the War Memorial brought in Nancy Kerrigan’s Halloween On Ice, Long Island Medium, ZZ Top, wrastlin’, Royal Horses, a music festival, roller derby, a Slap Shot hockey tournament, Jehovah’s Witness Convention and a couple of Disney On Ice Shows. I made it as far back as May.

That’s not a busy arena and loses some events to State College and Pittsburgh, which has better venues. And maybe this signifies to the county government that despite the past issues at the arena—including a former manager being sentenced to fraud—it really should sink more money into renovating and upgrading the arena to be on an even playing field.

The more competitive the War Memorial becomes thanks to quality, the more ice-related events will be shifted to NCRC.

As you can see, there are endless solutions. They take dedication and time to develop. It’s not easy.

But it’s better than shuttering an ice rink for 20 hours a day.

Best practices for scheduling goalies for pick-up hockey

Tendies, I feel your pain when five of us decide to show up for open pick-up at once.

It’s part the responsibility of the ice rink and tendies to make sure there’s both enough goalies and not too much.

Every rink in North America does open pick-up differently with schedules all over the place. Heck, some rinks don’t have pick-up at all or just have invite only or in lieu of scheduling pick-up themselves, just allows one guy to buy up ice and run it his way.

A first-come, first-serve pick-up is a total crapshoot where shooters aren’t sure if there are going to be any goalies or six. A weekly schedule of people responding to an email quick enough once a week isn’t fair and can lead to the same goalies getting in.

Pick-up can last anywhere from 90 minutes to a good two hours depending on the rink and ideally there should be only two goalies showing up to get in a good workout. At a maximum four can be allowed to allow each guy to rotate on each side if there really is a glut but capping at two goalies each, each guy is guaranteed a full game. You may not get to play at each pick-up, but it spreads ice time around for a better experience and eliminates a lot of bullshit.

Why should you and your rink stop at two? Because staff and other goalies become lax in enforcing a good game and two becomes three becomes four and yes, one night even seven.

I can never fathom the reasoning a goalie has when he looks at a sheet and sees four tendies and still continues to sign up and play. Think about why you’re there and why you’re showing up and if driving for 30-60 minutes to a rink and then getting dressed for another 25 minutes is worth your and everyone else’s time to sit on a bench every 20 minutes..

Play during a pick-up typically doesn’t get started until about 10 minutes if to let guys shoot around and get warmed up. Then if you’re rotating you’re either sitting on the bench anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. You’re barely breaking a sweat, you’re not getting a feel or in a rhythm and generally, it’s poor for both the shooters and the goalies. Straight up, it’s a waste of time for everyone.

I’ve also seen at rinks that are first-come, first-serve allow goalies who have played in a beginner’s rec game sign up for a pick-up immediately following the game, causing a glut of tendies. Those tendies already got their ice time, they should be sweating and tired and good for the night. If you’re looking to face more challenging shooters, find another time. Or skip on the rec league that you shouldn’t be playing in.

TIPS FOR SCHEDULING GOALIES FOR PICK-UP

I reached out to fellow tendies on Goalie Gear Sluts United for thoughts and a couple guys shared a good system for pre-paid. I’m going to build on their suggestion based on other tools I’ve seen that work. Feel free to cut and paste these guidelines on your rink’s website and email them out. Too many rinks don’t post details about how pick-ups are managed on their websites and social media accounts.

  • 24 hours before a pick-up starts, send out a text message that pre-sign up for goalies are now available. [Details on how to set this up below]. You can adjust how soon before the message is sent out. Some rinks send the message out 6 hours before. Just send it out in enough time and not like an hour or two before—people have to pack their gear and drive.
  • Once registration is open, two goalies can sign up for pre-paid slots. Be clear if you will accept phone calls or not for pre-paid slots and how soon someone can call in. If you accept call-ins, be sure to update the list yourself and notify everyone if goalie registration is now full.
  • If nobody pre-pays, you can show up as early as 1 hour before pick-up to sign in and play for free.
  • Goalies who are on the ice for a game, stick-and-shoot or pick-up immediately prior to the scheduled pick-up are prohibited from signing up for pick-up.
  • If a goalie shows up that would put you over the maximum, kindly tell them you can’t let them on but offer some sort of discount or credit to be used at the rink.
  • Make sure to communicate with shooters that you have two goalies and post online and at the rink that you will be organizing pick-up differently.

HOW TO SET UP ONLIE PICK-UP RESERVATION FORMS

There are a few solutions to getting a sign-up in order for pick-up hockey that works for both goalies and skaters.

If your rink’s website is built on WordPress, a plug-in is available called RSVPmaker. You can send out a link to people and have it programmed to show attendees, how many slots are open and when pick-up is available.

You can see an example of this at X-tra Ice in Tampa. The rink sends out a shortened link via text message to alert people. The rink does a good job of using Google Calendar for its scheduling and informs people if someone should be contacted to register for open pick-up (including players). Another pick-up slot on Friday doesn’t have any information, and they could use a small blurb about what to do but overall, this rink seems to be the best at organizing pick-ups in the Tampa area.

Alternatively, you can also use Eventbrite. This website also allows you to charge people for tickets and can bring them in so you can take payment online. An app is available for people wanting to get tickets on both iOS and Android devices.

At the rink, you would want to have a laptop, iPad or iPhone handy to check people in. You can scan the tickets using an app called Eventbrite Neon (used to be called Entry Manager) or just use a computer to check people off.

A hockey-centric app called Hockey Community is also a great alternative. More than just organizing pick-ups, the app can help organize leagues, has a request goalie function, sell your gear, check-in at rinks or just post what’s on your mind.

SCHEDULING PICK-UP

When deciding on scheduling pick-up, keep a few things in mind to maximize attendance. These tips are meant for the smaller to medium rink populations.

Am I scheduling to serve both the early risers and the night owls? Not everyone gets up at 4 a.m. to get in pick-up and not everyone feels like playing at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night, but make sure you get a feel for your rink’s population, preferred schedule and attendance. Keep communicating and reminding people when you have pick-up. I’ve seen rinks that have great success with a 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. start on a Friday night and with early morning times. And in Ellenton, Fla., pick-ups held during the week at 11:30 a.m./noon get full benches.

Which nights do the leagues play? Most rinks have Sunday leagues, so if you have free ice time on the weekends, it’s not the smartest to schedule pick-up on a Saturday night. A lot of guys aren’t going to play back-to-back nights, especially at a smaller rink. I’ve been to rinks that has two sheets of ice and active leagues and they decide to schedule a random pick-up at 5:30 or 6 p.m. on a Saturday. It’s dinner time on a weekend–nobody’s showing up to that (save for my stupid self just to find out). Remember that quite a few players have their own kids playing hockey or other sports, so they’re likely on the road Saturday traveling to rinks or gymnasiums for their own games.

If your rink is so small that leagues only play on Sunday, then look at a mid-week option as well. Other rinks have so many leagues that a Thursday night skills and drills with a pick-up isn’t affected.

Do pick-ups need to be scheduled for different skill sets/ages? Look at your leagues, ages of players and communicate with coaches at the youth level to see if needs are being met for open ice time. Do you need a 17 and under pick-up so keep the teens away from bigger guys who might take a run at them? Old-timers/35-and-up or senior pick-up? Beginner’s pick-up?

If you only have enough ice time for one more slot, go with beginner. It’s critical to get people playing the sport regardless of age. Beginner players help grow the rink’s population and bottom line and provide opportunities to form beginner’s leagues and have players improve to the level where they can join higher levels.

Hockeyville 2015 nominations to include U.S. ice rinks

Kraft HockeyvilleA very important program that raises funds to upgrade community ice rinks in Canada is expanding to the U.S., the NHL and Kraft foods announced Monday.

On Sunday, I proposed starting up a similar program in Florida, or at least Tampa Bay, because of a lack of Hockeyville in the U.S. Well, this solves some of it at least.

  • If you didn’t read Sunday’s blog (shame on you) or the NHL’s announcement, here’s how Hockeyville works:
  • The winners are technically towns and not ice rinks as communities are nominated.
  • Voting is held through several rounds to advance to the finals.
  • One finalist each from the East and West get $50,000 for arena upgrades in 2014’s contest. Top two receive $100,000 and grand prize winner gets a NHL pre-season game hosted at their arena. For 2015, the grand prized is increased to $150,000.

Details will be released in the coming months with a bigger announcement and kick-off during the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 in Washington (I’ll be there in the outfield).

Now, I presume all rinks are eligible in the U.S., and that they’re not going to discriminate based on regions. Bookmark this blog or www.krafthockeyville.com to learn more details.

While the pot of money is larger for a greater impact for Florida rinks, they have to compete against all these rinks in the U.S. and maybe they’ll be lumped into Canada’s competition, too. That remains to be seen.

So, I still am pushing for my HockeyBay idea of fundraising to upgrade rinks here to make them top-notch and safe.

Rickety rinks

I haven’t been to all of the Florida rinks—mainly anything on the Atlantic coast save for Panthers IceDen, but having a few issues in the rinks down here in a warm climate isn’t enough of a sob story to win. I generalized some issues at the rinks in Tampa Bay that need to be addressed, but there are much worse. Fortunately one of them, the Clearwater Ice Arena, fixed an carbon monoxide issue in 2011 that caused 23 people to get sick. I’ve been to plenty of dingy rinks through the years that are more deserving of winning a national contest for upgrades.

I can think of two in Erie, Pa., in particular. One is the Ice Center of Erie, which used to be called the Igloo Ice Arena. I played there in a tournament during one my midget years in high school then came back to play some pick-up games in 2006 when I interned for the newspaper there, Erie Times-News. Nothing changed from 2000 to 2006. I haven’t been back since, but apparently the rink closed because of all the mounting issues, according to the Erie Times-News:

ICE general manager Steve Tuholski said the rink needed a new heat system, repairs to the entire floor and a new cooling tower, as well as about 2,000 pounds of Freon to recharge the system — at a total estimated cost of $400,000 to $500,000.

Tuholski said the cost of the floor alone was estimated to be between $300,000 and $400,000.

“It would be a hefty financial toll to get it back up and running,” Tuholski said.

Yeah, that sounds about right. Some other funky details about the rink included an unused office hanging well over one of the benches. My coach in midget told the lone girl on the team that was her dressing room and she looked in disbelief because there wasn’t even a curtain to hide her from the entire rink. We made room for her in our locker.

The bench came down really low to compensate so you couldn’t hop over the boards too well. If you could, you might hit the office. I’m surprised the glass window never broke. The showers were gnarly and I don’t know if you could even define the locker rooms as rooms.

Obviously $100,000 or even $150,000 wouldn’t have done anything for the rink. It’s a shame because Erie was already underserved for ice when it came to that community. The Erie Zoo’s land has the JMC Ice Arena, which closes during the summer and doesn’t open until November, leaving only Mercyhurst Ice Center’s rink available, which is an excellent facility, but is busy with figure skaters and the college teams. Also, Erie Insurance Arena’s ice is primarily used for the OHL’s Erie Otters.

JMC has a cool look both inside and outside, but needs some TLC. Outside, JMC looks like a 1960s old state park building. Inside, well, it needs help. In 2011, the ETN/Go Erie wrote about the struggles of that ice rink ran by the zoo and even with about $1 million of work over the span of a decade, it still needed more than $1 million of work in 2011. I never got to revisit the rink in 2006 to see what changed since I was there as a teen, but remembered some funky features. The lobby area was cramped and our dressing room was upstairs and was a large loft without a real bench. My teammates weren’t sure if we were going to break through the floor.

That was just in the walls of the room, let’s talk about getting there. Have you tried to walk up and down wooden steps without a handrail in goalie gear? I assure you it’s a thrill. There’s padding to break your fall from the gear but that’s it. (Also not the only rink I’ve had to walk down or up stairs in goalie gear to get to the rink.) So that needed some work.

What I loved about the rink was the one wall that has the U.S. and Canada flags crossed on a frosted glass wall, leaving natural light shining through. It’s just beautiful and I remember that rink fondly. I earned a game MVP in our tournament at that rink, despite our team getting smashed like 11-4, I stopped at least 60 shots. I’m not kidding you. Check out this Erie Times-News/Go Erie photo gallery of the rink through the years and stop on photo No. 3 to enjoy the view of the wall.

Come to think of it, Erie is in need of a brand new arena with at least two sheets of ice. It might be worth recruiting kids there to have their families move here to get ice time and live.

I even put those two rinks above my hometown Hagerstown Ice and Sports Complex, which didn’t have enough money to build showers when it opened in 1998. Sometime around 2009, work started to fundraise and build showers. As of March of this year, the project still isn’t completed. That’s far more manageable.

I’m excited for Hockeyville to be available in the U.S., and while there are rinks far more deserving elsewhere, this is also an opportunity to gain from another’s loss and build hockey in Florida.