Ice crunch affects Red Deer minor hockey

A duffel bag full of hockey teams will be out in the cold next year due to the demolition of the Red Deer Arena.

A duffel bag full of hockey teams will be out in the cold next year due to the demolition of the Red Deer Arena.

Finding ice for the teams won’t be a short-term problem, since construction of the facility that will replace the Arena will not be completed until 2018.

“It’s a work in progress. There’s a lot of things we’re looking at,” said Red Deer Minor Hockey Association general manager Dallas Gaume. “Maybe we’ll have younger teams share ice more often, and we’ve asked the city to possibly keep the other rinks open a bit later at night and maybe open them a little earlier in the morning.”

There are other options being explored, said Gaume, such as acquiring more ice time at the Centrium and reducing the time of practice sessions.

“We’re meeting with the Westerner folks soon to inquire about the Centrium,” he said. “We’re looking at other things, too. Maybe practices will be cut down, made a little shorter. We’re just going to have to squeeze as much as we can.

“It’s probably going to be a two-year deal where we’re in a major ice crunch and it’s going to be difficult. There’s definitely going to be some challenges.”

While minor hockey teams play at other city facilities including the Kinex, Collicutt Centre and the Kinsmen Arenas, the Red Deer Arena is home to the midget AAA Optimist Chiefs, minor midget AAA Strata Energy and North Star Chiefs, major bantam Rebels and the midget AA Elks and Indy Graphics Chiefs.

“We have close to 40 hours of ice at the Arena. A lot of our teams play there and we will have to replace those game slots on the weekend somewhere,” said Gaume. “We’re also going to have to play some weeknight games, maybe at the Centrium.

“We’re going to have to be really creative. Joanne Mahura is in charge of the ice schedule and she’s going to have some major challenges on her hands.”

Securing ice time in other Central Alberta communities does not appear to be a logical option, said Gaume.

“Delburne might have a bit, but there’s not a lot of (available) ice in the surrounding area,” he said. “We’re not opposed to going out of town, but none of these towns like Lacombe, Blackfalds and Sylvan Lake have spare ice times.

“Delburne has a bit … we host an atom tournament there in December. But that’s the only place within half an hour of here.”

Penhold Regional Multiplex booking clerk Alice Vigne confirmed that the facility’s arena is fully booked for the current hockey season.

“I don’t have anything even during the week,” she said.

The Multiplex hosts various Red Deer minor teams as well as Red Deer Pond Hockey, two ringette teams, the Red Deer College hockey Kings and the junior women Central Alberta Amazons, and is also home to a late-night men’s league and the Penhold Silver Selects, an oldtimers squad that plays morning games.

“We’ve had a lot of inquiries about ice time here but we’re at full capacity,” said Vigne.

Other teams that will be left without a home when the Arena comes down are the Red Deer College Queens and the Red Deer Vipers of the Heritage Junior League.

RDC athletics marketing director P.J. Swales said the search for the ice time for the Queens does include plenty of options.

“But it’s a matter of trying to figure out which is the best for our student athletes and their academic lives,” he added.

“We’re open to travelling, but it’s a matter of what to do with the ancillary items around the team, like the equipment and other supplies … where do we store that equipment and how does that equipment get managed.

“Some of the conversations we’ve been having with different organizations, be it in Red Deer, Blackfalds, Penhold or Sylvan Lake, have been based on whether there is an opportunity for us to have any type of storage in the facilities.

“But that’s priority No. 2. Priority No. 1 is what type of ice times can we get for practice and games.”

RDC athletic director Diane St-Denis and Queens head coach Kelly Coulter have been hard at work in an attempt to secure a two-year home base for the team, which in 2018 will move into the planned RDC Centre for Health, Wellness and Sport.

“I know that they are actively working towards a resolution as soon as possible,” said Swales, who added that a shortage of ice is a problem across the Alberta Colleges women’s and men’s hockey leagues.

“It doesn’t necessarily play out during the regular season, where it becomes very tight is during playoffs when you can’t go ahead and schedule games for specific days,” he said. “The city and Penhold have been wonderful while working with us through all those scenarios, but it’s one where I can definitely see that situation becoming more heightened during the actual ice shortage of the next two seasons.”

Like the college teams, the junior B Vipers are on their own while attempting to find a home for the next two seasons. They are, however, working with the city’s recreation department.

“We’re kind of hoping that someone will sort of tell us what we are going to do and where we’re going to end up,” said Vipers general manager Wade Krusky.

“We’re not (affiliated with) minor hockey, but we’re still a user group with the city facilities. We have been participating in some meetings with the city but really, as far as any plans as to where we’re going to end up next year … there’s nothing firm and there’s nothing that has been offered that we know yet.”

Demolition of the Arena will follow the junior B provincials — hosted by the Vipers — the first week of April and a closing ceremony for the facility set for April 8.

“Somewhere, some way, somehow, with us being a Red Deer team we’re hoping we can stay in the city,” said Krusky. “But there’s talk that the rinks will be full and we’ll have to go out of town to rent ice. We hope that doesn’t happen.”

The Red Deer Minor Hockey Association office is located at the Arena and Gaume said plans are underway to relocate to another downtown location.

“We have to be out on March 30th,” said Gaume. “It is a concern but we have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do. We haven’t finalized it yet but we have a pretty darn good idea of where we’re going.”

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