In the not-so-distant past, winter and ice sports were mostly confined to chilly climes in the U.S. While snow remains a requisite for alpine and cross-country pursuits (whether on bikes, skis or snowboards), such is not the case for ice-based activities including ice hockey, sled hockey, figure skating, curling and broomball. Top-notch indoor ice facilities allow destinations to host competitions year-round, giving event organizers a growing variety of venue options. These eight destinations are ready to accommodate a wintry mix.
Butler County, Pennsylvania
Ice hockey is the main attraction in this locale, and the UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township is the premier winter sports facility. The state-of-the-art venue serves as the primary practice and training facility for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, and also houses UPMC Sports Medicine, the area’s largest and most experienced sports medicine provider.
“More than 20 hockey tournaments are held annually at the UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex and the facility is always willing to look at new opportunities to host sporting events,” says Amy Pack, executive director, Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau.
Pack notes that hockey tournaments range in number of teams competing, but the largest event of the year, the USHL Fall Classic, held September 20-25, 2023, had 16 USHL teams competing, drawing more than 400 scouts from the National Hockey League and college and junior teams to the region. An additional 80 youth teams also played in the event that week. The estimated economic impact for the event surpassed $2.5 million. The USHL fall Classic has been held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex for eight consecutive seasons.
“There are local teams in most tournaments hosted at this facility, as Pittsburgh has many strong hockey programs,” says Pack. “However, the USHL Classic and many other men’s and women’s hockey tournaments bring athletes from all over the country as well as internationally, especially Canada.”
Elgin Area, Illinois
Here, ice hockey is the main draw and adult and youth hockey tournaments take place year-round at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee. The facility, which boasts three NHL-size rinks, is considered one of the largest in the Chicagoland area. Amenities include locker rooms, a medical room, meeting rooms and a full restaurant and bar, as well as plenty of onsite parking.
Ryan Cortez, sales executive for the Elgin Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, points out that Canlan Ice Sports hosts hockey tournaments almost every weekend in the wintertime, from the youth to collegiate levels. Several new youth hockey tournaments will be coming to Canlan Ice Sports in 2024. “Each hockey tournament at Canlan Ice Sports brings hundreds of players along with family and friends to the Elgin area during the wintertime, creating the most impactful economic impact of any wintertime event,” he says.
Other ice facilities in the Elgin Area host games for the Chicago CCM World Invite Chicago, a youth tournament that celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2023. The event, billed as the largest hockey tournament in the world, drew 526 teams from Canada, Czech Republic, Great Britain and across the USA. The 2024 iteration is slated for early November and will feature more than 500 teams and 10,000 athletes. Meanwhile, Villa Olivia is among Chicagoland area’s top resorts for snowboarding.
Winter and ice sports enthusiasts have a wealth of options in Erie.
“Our community is an attractive destination for ice sports with five pads available, including the LECOM Sports Park, a twin pad arena located in the heart of the city of Erie’s shopping district,” says Mark Jeanneret, executive director of Erie Sports Commission. “Outdoor winter activities abound at Presque Isle State Park (ice fishing), Wilderness Lodge (cross-country skiing), and nearby Peek n’ Peak Resort (downhill skiing and snowboarding).”
Jeanneret notes that ice hockey is the most prominent ice sport taking place in Erie during the winter season, “but broomball, curling and figure skating are also regular activities at each of Erie’s five ice venues, and ice fishing tournaments are also regularly scheduled on Presque Isle Bay.”
Erie Insurance Arena is the premier ice venue and has hosted the 2021 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four and the College Hockey Inc. Ice Breaker Tournament in 2018. During the 2023-24 hockey season, the facility is also seeing action from nine weekend youth hockey tournaments, ranging from 25 to more than 80 teams. There is ample ice available to welcome additional youth and adult tournaments in the future. The Erie Sports Commission also hosted the USA Hockey Men’s Sled Hockey Development Team Camp in 2023 at the arena.
Beyond hockey, Erie hosts the Mid-Atlantic Broomball Tournament, which attracts nearly 20 adult teams annually and hosted the 2023 USFA Inter-Collegiate Figure Skating Competition at Mercyhurst University Ice Center. The French Creek Curling Club recently relocated its operations to the LECOM Sports Park and has an organizational interest in hosting a bonspiel in the near future.
Says Jeanneret, “The Erie Sports Commission strives to highlight our four-season attractions with sports-friendly facilities that result in winter tournaments that support our tourism industry all year long.”
Oneida County, New York
Oneida County offers a diverse range of sports facilities, with the newest being the Utica University Nexus Center, which opened in November 2022. The venue features three multi-purpose 200’ x 85’ playing surfaces that can be utilized as ice sheets or turf and is connected by a walkway to the historic Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, bringing the total to four surfaces for sports tournaments.
When Nexus opened, it was projected to host 24 ice hockey and 24 lacrosse tournaments annually, drawing teams from across the U.S. and Canada. Future plans for Nexus include expanding it to a four-season sporting center with the potential to add outdoor multi-use sports fields.
In 2023, Nexus hosted the United States Premier Hockey League and elite National Championships, which brought in 29 teams and their families from around the country. The facility also hosted multiple One Hockey events that attracted about 60 teams and more than 1,000 spectators per tournament.
In 2024, the Adirondack Bank Center and the Utica University Nexus Center will host the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship and the World Lacrosse Box Championships. Throughout the year, numerous men’s and women’s professional, college, high school and youth sports tournaments are hosted between the two facilities. Adirondack Bank Center is the home of the Utica Comets, the AHF affiliate of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and the MASL’s Utica City FC.
“The Utica University Nexus Center has only been open for just over a year and has already seen well over 400,000 visitors,” says Madison Cermak, director of sales, Oneida County Tourism. “The yearly estimated economic impact is between $27 million and $32 million, a tremendous impact for Oneida County.”
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Ice hockey and SnoCross are big draws for this destination, and figure skating and curling will be added to the mix. The city is home to the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede, and also hosts a variety of other youth hockey tournaments, including the South Dakota Boys’ Varsity State Tournament (200 participants, 400 spectators and $330,000 economic impact), the South Dakota Girls’ Varsity State Tournament (150 competitors, 275 spectators and $250,232 economic impact) and the South Dakota Hockey Selects Invitational (400 players, 800 spectators and $830,000 economic impact).
Currently, the two key hockey venues are SCHEELS IcePlex, offering three full-size indoor rinks, and the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center which can accommodate 10,600 hockey and basketball spectators. Additionally, Midco Arena at Augustana University, the home of Augustana Hockey, is scheduled to open in mid-January 2024. The 154,000-square-foot facility will seat 3,082 fans and include a luxury club area and 12 suites, plus the GreatLIFE Strength & Conditioning Center.
“There are opportunities to expand figure skating and curling,” says Krista Orsack, director of marketing for Experience Sioux Falls. “Both sports have strong local organizations and continue to grow. The brand new Midco Arena at Augustana University will expand hockey opportunities for collegiate athletes.”
South Bend, Indiana
The 2022-2023 season was a record year for ice hockey in South Bend, which hosted 29 tournaments, 1,804 games, 25,737 room nights and 45,130 players and spectators, resulting in economic impact of $14,309,090.
“Right now, we hold anywhere from 25 to 30 ice hockey tournaments between September and April,” reports Nick Kleva, director of sports development, Visit South Bend Mishawaka. “The rinks are always open to adding more events or expanding existing tournaments if the ice is available.”
Most of the hockey action takes place at the Compton Family Ice Arena on the campus of Notre Dame, and at the Ice Box Skating Rink in South Bend. The two facilities mainly hold youth tournaments. The Compton Arena has two rinks and is home to the NCAA DI Notre Dame men’s ice hockey program, as well as men’s and women’s college club teams. Compton has also held NHL Alumni games and has hosted the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks preseason training camp. Meanwhile, the Ice Box has two rinks and offers a sled hockey program for players with disabilities.
“Hockey tournaments are an essential part of our community. We see hundreds of thousands of visitors between September and November for Notre Dame football games. After football season, we see a hockey tournament almost every weekend and it does a lot for our hotels, restaurants and attractions, which are normally slower during those months,” explains Kleva. “Many of our partners now rely on these tournaments to help them get by until the seasons flip and more people start traveling again.”
Ice hockey and figure skating are extremely popular in Springfield, and the Nelson Center Ice Rink is at the heart of the action. The venue boasts two indoor rinks (the only two within a 60-mile radius). It’s home to the NAHL Springfield Junior Blues, Lincoln Land High School Hockey Association Springfield Youth Hockey Association, and the Springfield Figure Skating Club. In addition to two rinks, the Nelson Center Ice Rink offers eight locker rooms, concession areas, hospitality rooms, accessible entry, Wi-Fi and TV monitors in rink lobbies.
“Five to 10 events are held per year and event sizes range from 50 to 300 participants, and generate $60,000 to $172,000 in economic impact,” says Terry Truman, sales manager at Visit Springfield Illinois. “Springfield has a long history of hosting ice sports. Hockey tournaments including Big Bear, My Hockey and NJPHL all the way to Mid-America Collegiate Hockey, have hosted tournaments on multiple occasions. US Figure Skating has twice held its Adult Sectionals at Nelson Center with the support of Springfield Figure Skating Club.”
Despite having average winter temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s, Tempe’s ice sports scene is thriving, including ice hockey, figure skating, sled hockey and curling. In fact, the Tempe area hosts the only NCAA Division I hockey team (the Arizona State University Sun Devils) and the only NHL hockey team (the Arizona Coyotes) in the state. The Coyote Curling Club also hosts
international curling events in the city.
Ice events are held at the Mullett Arena and the adjacent Mountain America Community Iceplex, owned by ASU. Mullett Arena opened in late 2022 and hosts Arizona Coyotes hockey games, ASU Sun Devil hockey games and community hockey events. The Iceplex holds men’s and women’s ASU ACHA Club Hockey, adult hockey leagues and figure skating.
“At the Iceplex there is something happening almost daily: public skating sessions, adult hockey league games, learn to skate classes, private training sessions, club sport games and figure skating,” says Sentia Bryant, marketing manager at OVG Facilities/Mullett Arena. “Mullett Arena hosts 41 Home NHL Arizona Coyotes games, 27 ASU Sun Devil Hockey games, and about 10 community hockey events/games [annually].” She adds that while the Iceplex primarily serves the local community, the Mullett Arena hosts a mix of local and out-of-state competitors. SDM