URBANDALE, Iowa -- When it comes to sports played on ice, trying to find an ice rink to practice on in the Des Moines metro is a difficult task. There is Wells Fargo Arena and Buccaneer Arena, but both are constantly booked up. What's left is the Metro Ice Sports Facility, but it recently had to close down both of its two rinks.
It all started a few years back when Metro Ice had problems with their compression or “chiller” system, an essential item for upkeep with the ice. Owner Ryan Bennett made the decision this year to close one rink permanently, transforming it into an indoor soccer field. But then in early August, the system broke down for good, closing the remaining rink indefinitely. The solution, getting a brand new system with a total cost of a quarter of a million dollars, according to Bennett, was looking like an unlikely option.
“Us personally, we couldn't afford to do it,” Bennett said. “We've been putting in $60,000-$100,000 every year in the back room just to try to keep the ice going. It comes at a time where we need a new chiller. It just doesn't work anymore. I’m a hockey guy. I love hockey. I want to help build hockey in Des Moines, be a part of it. It's been a struggle the last several years and, you know, the consensus with everybody was ‘hey, we need hockey here and what can we do for long term to fix the problem.’”
The hockey community was left with only two choices, find a way to get the metro's rink up and running, or possibly have to cut several leagues due to lack of ice availability. The latter wasn't an option they were willing to swallow so the Iowa Wild and Des Moines Youth Hockey came up with the funds to get a working compressor and ice back in the facility. The Polk County board of supervisors also helped, giving the rink $8,000.
President of the Iowa Wild, Todd Frederickson, and Jason Elliott with Des Moines Youth Hockey both told Channel 13’s Whitney Blakemore there was a lot at stake. They said hockey is building a lot of momentum and booming in the metro. They feared losing a rink would set the sport back years in Des Moines.
“We needed ice here a month ago. There's been a big shortage [in Des Moines], you know, usually, they are starting here pretty quickly and this is a necessity right now. You can't play hockey and can't do figure skating, or anything without ice,” Bennett said.
Elliott said losing the rink would’ve meant losing 33 percent of available ice for all their youth programs in the area, and their current 600 kids could’ve been possibly be cut in half. The Des Moines Youth Hockey Board decided helping Metro Ice upfront now with funds would be an investment in their program and in the sport.
Frederickson couldn’t agree more. The Iowa Wild continues to play a major role in promoting ice hockey in the state and wanted to make sure the sport continues on the upward trend. But beyond supporting youth and club leagues, the Iowa Wild needed the facility for themselves, too.
The AHL program regularly practices at Metro Ice when Wells Fargo Arena isn’t available. The team even has their own locker room in the facility. With the home season opener just over a week away, on October 4th, the Iowa Wild needed ice back in the Urbandale complex as soon as possible.
“Really between us and Buccaneer Arena we are the main sheets of ice in Des Moines so really it’s an important part of the community. You know, the Wild does have some ice availability here and there, which they try to help out as much as possible. So when [the compressor] went down this last time it was a huge thing for us to work with the community and find a long term game plan that we are all together so this place can survive.”
Both the Iowa Wild and Des Moines Youth Hockey said they have loan terms with Metro Ice and will get repaid through things such as reduced price ice time.
This doesn’t just affect these two programs. The facility is also home to the Des Moines Oak Leafs, a part of the Midwest High School Hockey League and numerous recreation leagues. Figure skating and curling also use Metro Ice and are feeling the struggles of this ice shortage.
A worker at Metro Ice said they are working 18 hour days to hopefully have the one sheet of ice ready to go by Wednesday. Teams are already asking to get in and practice to make up for lost time while the compressor was down.
“[I’m] thankful for a lot of people in the community here that helped us out of a big jam. A group in Waterloo got us going with a chiller in the new system. We had J.G. Concrete that came out and did a pad for us last second. And then, of course, the Iowa Wild, Des Moines Youth Hockey, and [Polk] county came in and helped us up front trying to get everything up and going for the season. Really, it’s been a community outreach helping us get a new system so hopefully this stuff doesn’t happen again,” Bennett said.