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Fans chill to hockey

Rink could use refrigeration unit

— If Winthrop Ice and Sports Rink gets a new refrigeration unit, its director predicts a boon for local recreation and businesses.

Ice rink officials and volunteers are working to raise about $315,000 more to turn the grass field under the ice into a refrigerated slab.

The project would allow the rink to stay open from about mid-November through mid-March, even during unseasonably warm winter days like those the area experienced earlier this month, Director Kurt Meacham said.

“When we talk about refrigeration, what we’re really talking about is being able to import money into the community,” he said. “We’re bringing outside people into the community to enjoy the ice rink. And by doing that, it empowers us financially.”

Meacham pointed to last weekend’s Winthrop Winter Classic peewee hockey tournament as an example.

Three Canadian teams and two teams from Everett and Seattle came to town for the tournament. It drew about 400 spectators, he said, and the teams stayed in local hotels and ate in local restaurants.

Tournament Director Gary Gusinsky was in Winthrop last winter for a hockey gear fundraiser.

“We played a couple games there in Winthrop,” Gusinsky said. “We said, ‘This is phenomenal.’ It’s an incredible experience playing the way it is meant to be played, outdoors under the lights.”

Chilliwack, B.C., topped North Vancouver, 6-3, in the championship game that featured some of the region’s best age 11-12 hockey players.

Coquitlam , B.C., edged the Everett Junior Silvertips 5-4 in double overtime.

Also playing was the Seattle Junior Northwest Admirals.

“That’s another thing about Winthrop, the parents can belly up to the boards,” Gusinsky said. “There’s no glass.”

“It was definitely a visible impact to the community,” Meacham said. “Suffice it to say, there was thousands of dollars brought into the community for the purposes of that tournament.”

Hosting the tournament was “quite a bit of risk” for everyone involved, Meacham said, due to the recent warm weather.

“This time, we kind of lucked out,” he said. “There’s a good chance that we’re probably going to try to do it next year, but there’s definitely a lot of hand-wringing.”

“The ice was fantastic,” said Gusinsky, who said the tournament was almost canceled due to warm weather a couple weeks ago.

“The weather was perfect for hockey, cold at night and not warm during the day.

“We want many more tournaments in all age levels and skill levels,” Gusinsky said. “We need to create awareness for the next phase at the rink, buying an ice chiller.”

The planned improvement project would enable the rink and local businesses to make more solid plans for events without the worry of the weather, Meacham said.

Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said the project is in the planning stages, but if all goes according to plan, construction could begin in summer 2015.

“What it’ll be is an expansion of the existing building and the addition of a refrigerated slab,” she said. “Basically, it will go from being a grass field to being a big slab.”

The slab will be the same size as the current field. The building expansion will include more office and rental space, changing areas and restrooms.

The town received a $497,000 grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office, and rink employees and volunteers have already raised the matching funds. A capital fundraising campaign began late last month.

In addition to being able to stay open longer each year, having a dependable ice source could help resurrect the local youth hockey travel team, Meacham said. Right now, four or five players are shuttled down to Wenatchee to play.


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