Nancy Edmonds Hanson
To call the soon-to-be-completed third rink at the Cullen Hockey Center “a dream come true” is only slightly premature. In two months or so, the long-awaited sheet of ice – to be called the Sanford Health Rink – is expected to welcome young skaters, easing the scheduling woes and opening the door to new possibilities for the Moorhead Youth Hockey Association.
“It’s definitely been part of our five-year plan ever since I was hired in April 2015,” MYHA executive director Rob Gramer says. “With almost 60 teams and 600 skaters – all ages from 4 to 18, boys and girls – scheduling has been a challenge. This is going to really release the pressure.”
The floor was laid in the 300-by-250-foot rink on facility’s north side last week. It’s expected to be ready for young skaters by mid-October. The first public event is the Blue Ox Bantam tournament Nov. 8-10, drawing 24 teams of 14- and 15-year-olds for the first big statewide tournament of the season. Plans are still firming up for a grand opening, probably that weekend.
In the meantime, the city-owned arena is already buzzing. A skating clinic occupies the ice in the Dennis Bushy Rink (named last year in honor of the facility’s longtime manager). Turf will be removed next week in the Scheels rink, which has hosted dry-floor summer activities like speed and strength training and lacrosse.
The renewed ice sheet in the Scheels Rink will be available to give young beginning skaters a taste of life on ice next month. Li’l Spuds Try It Nights are scheduled there Sept. 5, 10, 12 and 17 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. “It’s a chance for new boys and girls from 4 to 8 who have never played organized hockey to try out the game,” Rob explains. Gear will be provided at the free events. To register, go to www.moorheadyouthhockey.com and click the “news” tab.
Completion this fall marks the final stage of MYHA’s $9 million expansion. The first steps focused on the existing building. The $3.5 million first phase included replacement of the building’s aging infrastructure, including a new plant and roof. Phase I was funded with $1 million from the city, which owns the building and land, plus $2 million in 25-year bonds to be repaid from operating revenue.
Work began on the $5.5 million addition just one year ago. About half of the cost of the expanded building and rink are funded by major gifts from Terry and Matt Cullen, Scheels, Sanford Health, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, First International Bank and Icon Architects, who designed the building. The balance is coming from individual gifts and pledges, as well as smaller corporate gifts. Fund-raising efforts are ongoing; in the meantime, construction costs are underwritten by a short-term note from the city and a construction line based from First International Bank based on the strength of those pledges.
Rob notes the remarkable speed with which the project has been nearly completed. “Gehrtz Construction Services, Icon and the city of Moorhead have been working with us every step of the way,” he says. “Construction certainly has added a layer of complications – not only here but the new underpass being built on Highway 52. We’ll still have limited access for another year or so, but it’s all going to be worth it in the end.”
The director points out that MYHA’s expanded presence, along with the underpass and proposed new Moorhead High School, will add a handsome new “face” to the city’s east side. But the benefits go much farther.
“This helps us fulfill our mission to provide access for every child who wants to play,” he says. “The stress of scheduling everybody on two sheets will be relieved. We don’t turn anyone away. We don’t cut kids; we create more teams based on who’s coming.” MYHA’s scholarship program covers costs for those whose families can’t afford it.
A second benefit, he says, is that the expanded facility helps to keep costs down by generating more revenue. “We host close to 20 tournaments throughout the season for all ages, both boys and girls. That helps the numbers on the operations side. By generating more money, we can keep costs low.” The new rink was specifically designed for uses that go beyond the hockey season. Garage doors and windows that can be opened make it an ideal venue to host car shows and other events from April through September – a spacious, sheltered open-air environment.
The final benefit goes beyond Moorhead’s much-loved realm of hockey to touch the entire community’s economy. Using industry-wide estimates of visitors’ expenditures, he says MYHA’s events bring $2 million to the community throughout the season – in hotel stays, dining, entertainment and incidental purchases.
“We’re here for the kids, but it goes way beyond that,” Rob points out. “The economic impact on the whole community is substantial. The more we grow our tournaments, the better it is for all of us.”
MYHA skaters to hit the (new) ice in October