Fresh Ice Ready at Little Bear Arena

Published in 2014 by The St. Ignace News

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Five-year-old Aidan Holwerda fell to the ice with a crash, then leaned forward and pushed himself upright with a grin. It was the first time he regained his feet without any help. A few onlookers cheered.

“Good job! Now, skate to me!” called Caleb Dean, the 17-year-old hockey player teaching the boy to skate at Little Bear East Arena’s ice rink.

The boys were two of many who turned out Sunday, October 12, to enjoy the opening of Little Bear’s ice rink. The ice officially opened the day before. The St. Ignace Hockey Association offered free skating both afternoons, opening the ice for children interested in either checking out the ice or trying their hand at hockey.

Some children clung to the side until they gained the balance to push off experimentally. More experienced skaters zipped across the ice with ease, brandishing hockey sticks and determined expressions.

“It’s the best time of the year,” said Caleb, who began skating at the age of four and plays on St. Ignace Hockey Association’s midget team. “Even hearing when they’ll put the ice on, you get excited.”

Even though many enjoy the ice, few realize that the process takes more than a week, 10,000 gallons of water, $5,000 to install, and $65,000 to maintain.

The process begins a day before the first layer of ice goes on. Recreation Department employees scrub the floor and turn on a floor-cooling system that reduces the floor’s temperature to 20 degrees. It takes 18 hours to reach that temperature and the system must run continuously throughout the season to keep the ice from melting.

Workers then use a fire hose to coat the rink with water and let it freeze. Between 40 and 50 coats are necessary to build up the ice, each coat depositing nearly 200 gallons of water. Different tasks must be performed between layers.

Once five coats are down and the ice is one-eighth of an inch thick, workers paint the ice white using a “wand” constructed from copper tubing and a series of nozzles. Six men work together to wield the wand and prevent the hose from touching the ice and smearing the paint.

Three coats of paint are required to get an even color and workers have to wait for each layer, made of powder and water, to freeze before beginning on the next coat.

“It’s a really slow process,” said Nate Montie, a part-time Recreation Department employee who helped with the ice for the first time this year.

Once all three coats are completed, workers coat the ice in four to five more layers of ice, providing a protective coat for the paint.

After the paint is secure, workers mark the center of the arena with a piece of white string. Working from this point, they measure where to put the red center line and the blue zone lines. These are marked with colored yarn and frozen down at the ends before the stripes, made of strips of paper, are rolled out and frozen down.

“I always wondered how they did it. I had no idea they used paper for the lines,” rink attendant Dan Olsen said. “And the yarn we use as guidelines actually stays in the ice. You never even see them.”

After the stripes are finished, they add the center logo and sponsors logos, which are printed on vinyl mesh and frozen down one at a time.

“It actually takes a lot of work, especially if they’re wrinkled from storage,” Mr. Olsen said. “We had to stand at the corners and spray it down with water, letting it freeze before moving on.”

After that, they flood and reflood, and re-flood the arena, taking about 30 coats to reach a quarterinch thickness.

“After that, we can bring out the ice refinisher. It lays down a lot more water, but we have to build up the ice first so the markings will stay,” Mr. Montie said. “It has metal studs on the tires to grip the ice and those would rip the markings out if there’s not a thick enough layer to protect them.”

The ice refinisher, which also smooths blade marks from the ice throughout the season, can put down up to 600 gallons of water in a single coat.

Once the ice refinisher lays down two coats, the ice is ready for skaters.

“We’ve already got people coming in asking if they can get on the ice,” Mr. Olsen said Thursday, October 9, two days before the rink was scheduled to open. “It’s really exciting news.”

The arena spends $70,000 a year to install and maintain the ice. Most of that cost comes from constantly running the chillers, Recreation Director Scott Marshall said.

The St. Ignace Ice Hockey Association covers $51,000 of ice costs by renting the rink for practice and games. Hockey tournaments and a donation made by the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau in January will make up the remainder this year.

Tournaments held at the arena draw people to St. Ignace during the winter and boost local businesses, Visitors Bureau Director Mindy Rutgers said.

Eight tournaments are scheduled for the 2014-2015 season, and each one is expected to draw 250 to 400 people, said facility manager Derek Rountree.

“It helps out the town, bringing people into hotels and restaurants, but it’s here for everybody,” Mr. Rountree said. “We get pretty much every age group coming down here to skate. It’s good for morale, gets people active, and gives kids something fun to do after school.”

Little Bear hosts open skate sessions

Monday through Thursday from noon to 3 p.m. It costs $3 to skate and $2 for tribal members. Skate rentals are $3 and skate sharpening is $4.

Stick and Puck sessions are Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 3 p.m. to 5:50 p.m. All children who want to participate must bring their own helmet and hockey gloves. Anyone younger than 18 must bring a facemask, as well.

St. Ignace Hockey Association team practices will began this week. Children have until December 1 to sign up.