The NHL was benched in the fall due to a lockout, but plenty of other skaters were getting ice time around the nation. And finding that ice time in the right place for the right event can be tricky. Each year, in-demand ice sheets accommodate youth and adult figure skating, speed skating, and hockey programs and tournaments, as well as open skate time for the public. The same ice sheet that hosts a mite hockey team’s 8-year-old players one day may feature professional-level skaters the next day.
While many sports in the U.S. that require ice skates share facilities, each sport has its own governing body that outlines rink requirements. Figure skating and synchronized skating are governed by U.S. Figure Skating, which in addition to sanctioning events at all levels, promotes ice skating with the public and trains and selects Olympic athletes. Likewise, U.S. Speedskating fosters the development of the sport of speedskating from youth through adult athletes. USA Hockey governs amateur hockey, regulating the sport to help develop and sustain leagues throughout the United States.
What this means is innumerable entry points and lifelong opportunities for participation in ice-based sports. Many towns across the mid to northern United States have the expertise and facilities to help you when you’re ready to sharpen your blades, hit the road, and get out on the ice.
Delaware: A History of Excellence on the Ice
You might not think of the Mid-Atlantic as a hotbed for traditional cold-weather sports, but Delaware has a strong presence in both the hockey and figure skating worlds.
“We’ve got facilities throughout the state, but by far the best spot in Delaware to hold hockey and ice skating would be Newark, Delaware at the University of Delaware,” says David Arthur, executive director of the Delaware Sports Commission.
The University of Delaware is a training center and has been the home ice for figure skaters Tara Lipinski, Kimmie Meissner, Johnny Weir and others. The university ice arenas are also a competitive ground for hockey. The university won a bid to host the 2014 American Collegiate Hockey Association Men’s Division 1 National Championship and the Women’s Division 1 and 2 National Championships.
Arthur credits part of Newark, Delaware’s leading ice sports capabilities to community partnerships. The area has a second strong ice facility in the Pond Ice Arena, which also brings in people from around the nation for events. “The University of Delaware and Pond Ice Arena have worked together in events. That’s one of the strengths of Delaware— people really work together,” he says.
Dayton, Ohio: Accessibility, Affordability
Dayton, Ohio is at the crossroads of I-70 and I-75, making it easy to reach from the four cardinal compass points. That and its affordability can make it an attractive destination for ice-based sports tournaments, at either of its two primary ice rink facilities: the Hara Arena, Conference, & Exhibition Center and the Kettering Recreation Center.
“Hara is a multipurpose arena,” says Jacquelyn Powell, president and CEO of the Dayton/Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They do have an area for hockey use that has 5,500 permanent seats.”
Something new this year is the Federal Hockey League Dayton Demonz making Hara Arena their home ice. Hara Arena is also host this year to the Silver Stick Hockey Tournament, which has an attendance of about 1,500 for each of the two weekends of the tournament, and an estimate of nearly $2 million in total economic impact.
Also in Montgomery County is the Kettering Ice Arena at the Kettering Recreation Center. The arena has an ice sheet measuring 85’ x 200’ and is in use from August through April for figure skating, hockey, and public skating.
Off the ice, visitors can take advantage of Dayton’s museums, parks, and arts offerings. “There are a number of world class attractions here,” says Powell. “The National Museum of the United States Air Force is here, and that museum is really one of a kind, and it is a free attraction.”
Dayton, important to the history of aviation, also has Orville’s Wright’s home and offers a rare chance to see a Wright aircraft. In addition, a variety of arts performances take place at the Schuster Performing Arts Center and Victoria Theatre.
Green Bay, Wisconsin: Mid-Size City, Big Sports
Green Bay, Wisconsin is a big name in sports, thanks to 2010 Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers, but the city has a strong presence on the ice as well. The area’s six sheets of ice are home to figure skaters, speed skaters, curlers and hockey players, from children to adults, and from beginners to elite athletes.
“Our main facility that’s most utilized in terms of a lot of your national tournaments is the Cornerstone Community Ice Center,” says Joel Everts, sports sales manager for the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That one has three sheets of ice; two that are 200’ x 85’ and one that is Olympic-size, 200’ x100’.”
The Cornerstone Community Ice Center has been the site of multiple national-level tournaments and championships, and is hosting the USA Curling Men’s and Women’s National Championships in February 2013.
Other prominent ice rinks in the area are the De Pere Ice Center, which holds public skates and offers hockey leagues, and the city’s main arena, the Resch Center—home to Green Bay Gamblers USHL junior hockey.
The city of Green Bay itself has roughly 100,000 residents, a fact that Everts says catches some people off guard because of the renown of the Packers football team. He sees that as an advantage for those who want to hold or attend an event in a major sports town without being in a major city. “We can have more of a hometown feel,” he notes.
St. Cloud, Minnesota: A Town With Ice
With its famously cold winters, it’s no surprise that ice-based sports are popular in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
“All combined we have eight sheets of ice, which is pretty substantial for a town of our size,” says Kelly Sayre, director of sports and special events for the St. Cloud Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have the National Hockey and Event Center, which has two sheets of ice, which is a little bit unique because they are both Olympic. It’s currently under construction. We are actually adding to it. “
Besides the NHEC at St. Cloud State University, the St. Cloud area also has ice sheets at the Municipal Athletic Center (MAC), which will undergo an expansion pending funding, Sports Arena East; Bernicks Pepsi Arena, which has an NHL-size sheet of ice on the inside, and River Lakes Civic Arena.
For post-tournament evenings, families will find many hotel options.
There are 1,700 hotel rooms in our area, ranging from motels to hotels to full-service properties,” says Sayre. “We also have some extended stay hotels, for those families that like to come in and have a kitchenette available. That really is what it comes down to—we do have hockey events that are all ages.”
Some visitors may want to use their time off the ice for other winter sports. St. Cloud has Minnesota’s longest lit cross-country ski trail. It is illuminated by runway lights elevated three-feet off the ground.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Building New Ice
Sioux Falls, South Dakota is a city that is proud of its ability to welcome visitors for a low-stress experience. It was ranked in 2012 by Allstate insurance company as the safest city for driving in the United States, and Krista Orsack, director of sales and marketing for the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, describes it as a safe, clean, and family-focused area.
For those in search of ice rinks, the city offers much more than a nice place to visit. Its capabilities for ice-based sports are about to change dramatically.
“We have some exciting news about hockey facilities in Sioux Falls,” says Orsack. “We are working toward opening a brand-new event center called the Denny Sanford Premier Center. It will be able to seat up to 10,450 for hockey. We will be able to convert the event center into smaller-size crowds if need be.”
The center is scheduled to open in Fall of 2014, as is another new facility about two miles away, the Sanford Sports Complex, which will house the Scheels IcePlex. The IcePlex will have three full-size indoor rinks, and an outdoor rink is also planned.
“It is very exciting, and I think it shows that our community is very progressive and staying on the cutting edge of providing the most elevated sported venues across the nation,” says Orsack.
Independence, Missouri: Community Ice
The 5,800-seat Independence Events Center is at the heart of ice-based sports in Independence, Missouri.
“We actually have two sheets of ice,” says Cori Day, tourism director for the Independence Department of Tourism. “The main arena is where the Missouri Mavericks play.”
The Mavericks are a Central Hockey League team. The Independence Events Center’s Community Ice program offers public skating, learn-to-skate, figure skating, and hockey.
“They are running about 250,000 people a year through the Community Ice,” says Day. “It’s been incredibly successful. We are going into our fourth year, and it has been amazing.”
Day says families and sports event organizers find Independence to be a good destination for its location, affordability, and attractions. Independence is located just outside of Kansas City and off of the major east-west artery of I-70. The city is home to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum and many shopping and entertainment options that won’t break a budget.
“It is a very affordable place to come for the families—when they are spending so much for their kids to travel,” says Day.
Snohomish County, Washington: A Growing Tradition
The Pacific Northwest climate of Snohomish County might not be your first guess for a region that takes its ice seriously, but hockey is a big deal there. The town of Everett built an facility to lure a hockey team. That facility, the Comcast Arena at Everett, is now home to the Western Hockey League junior ice hockey Everett Silvertips. The arena also houses the Comcast Community Ice Rink.
“The Community Ice Rink is where we have our youth hockey, our adult hockey leagues, and we also have figure skating. When they do play games, the youth and even the adults have the opportunity to utilize the main arena,” says Tammy Dunn, sports marketing manager for the Snohomish County Sports Commission.
Snohomish County has two other premier ice facilities: the Lynnwood Ice Center and the Olympic View Arena.
The Lynwood Ice Center has an NHL-size sheet of ice and about 500 bleachers. The two facilities are home ice for the Seattle Junior Hockey Association, the Seattle Skating Club, and the Greater Seattle Hockey League.
“Olympic View is unique because it is the international regulation sheet of ice, so it has that opportunity for the kinds of sheet of ice that they compete on for the Olympics,” says Dunn.
When the ice skates come off, visitors can head to the county’s higher elevations to Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains for skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing.