A new ice rink that opened this fall in Springfield means local skaters and hockey teams have more options and rink operators are now watching to see if the demand for ice time in the region will still meet the supply.
So far operators in Troy, Kettering and Washington Twp. say their rinks are seeing customary use, with public skate sessions pulling largely from the local communities and hockey teams tending to stay at rinks where they have practiced for years.
The Springfield rink, which opened in late October, has seen crowded public skating sessions — especially on weekends. It also has begun to fill up ice time with practice sessions for hockey teams from the Columbus area, and weekend games for teams traveling in from throughout Ohio and neighboring states.
All three rinks, as well as the privately-run South Metro Sports facility in Washington Twp., vie for interest from casual skaters, plus rentals for hockey games, practices and ice skating practices.
From one perspective, more rinks will likely mean more pick-up hockey.
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“Many players travel from arena to arena depending on what night of the week it is, what time the ice is available and if their schedules will allow them to participate,” said Phill Noll, youth hockey coordinator for Troy’s Hobart Arena. “Many of the players will discus where they all will play and who is available to play in the locker room and via social media. They all know who will be there and if they need to call a friend to make sure they have enough players. No one wants to drive for 30-45 minutes and then not have enough players to play.”
One thing local rinks will likely see this winter — because it happens every four years — is a spike in interest because of the winter Olympics. “For the last 30 years on Olympic years we always do better,” said Bob Koch, the vice president of the Metropolitan Ice Rink Managers Association. “Numbers are always up.”
Nick Poe, with South Metro Sports, said their public-skate population is up so far this winter. He said the addition of a rink in Springfield is overall a good thing to grow ice sports in the area. “It’s something we need, for sure,” he said. “They’ll struggle for awhile while they get a youth group going.”
In Springfield, the community is essentially learning to skate for the first time.
The National Trail Parks and Recreation Department’s Chiller, the new ice rink in downtown Springfield, has been open for two months.
“The biggest surprise is just how positive the local community has been,” said Jeremy Rogers, assistant general manager for Chiller LLC, the Columbus-based company that manages the new Springfield rink. “It’s a little unique here. In Columbus there is a lot to do, and you open a rink and people come or they don’t. In Springfield everyone has said, ‘We’re so glad you’re here.’
“It’s just been like one giant group hug, which is amazing for us to be honest.”
The $8.5 million rink was the final piece in a county-wide park and recreation development project that was funded by a levy approved by voters in 2000.
While initial curiosity in the new rink was expected to bring early crowds, the test now is how well the facility grows the interest in recreational skating and hockey in the area.
“The ultimate success is the number of teams that play, and they bring in tournaments and that brings in people,” said local developer Tom Loftis, who helped lead the campaign committee that sought the park district levy. “When you get to that level, you have a very broad range of success. It will take us two, three, four years.”
Deb Evans, 43, of Springfield, brought her children, nieces and friends to the rink for an open-skate one recent night. Her family has skated once a year on special outings, usually at Troy’s Hobart Arena. For many years, Evans said she didn’t think NTPRD was ever going to build the rink here.
“I didn’t think it was going to come to be,” she said. “But why go to Dayton or Kettering when you can come here?”
Brandon Eancheff, 14, a freshman at Shawnee High School, has begun skating in Springfield regularly in addition to his club hockey practices in Kettering and Centerville.
“I think it’s a nice hangout here for families,” he said.