Fraser Valley Hockey Association hopes to cool things down at IceBox rink
February 10, 2015
If you've ever driven east across the Fraser Flats at night, chances are you've seen the glow from the "IceBox" ice rink at Fraser Valley Sports Complex.
Wander into the rink on any given night, and you're bound to hear an enthralling symphony of skates on ice and pucks on glass punctuating the music from the rink's sound system.
Built in 2010, the $2.3 million facility is home to the Fraser Valley Hockey Association.
The association, formed around the same time that the IceBox was opened, oversees both youth and adult hockey leagues, giving Grand County residents the chance to experience "the fastest game on earth" in their own backyard.
“We could have an early season league, a late season league. There’s a lot we could do if we knew that we could have ice that was safer.”Austin DeGarmoFraser Valley Recreation District
Since its inception in 2010, the association has grown rapidly.
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Today there are about 75 players in the association's youth divisions, and 16 teams in its adult divisions.
That's four more adult teams than last year, said Dan Osborne, the association's president.
"We're hosting more games on the weekends than we ever have," said Austin DeGarmo, with Fraser Valley Recreation District.
That's exactly what the district was hoping for, Parks and Recreation Director Scott Ledin said.
"The plan was to establish our hockey association, work on increasing our numbers of players out there, both youth and adults, and I think in our first four years we've definitely seen that," Ledin said
But despite its success, the association has hit a few snags as of late.
When the rink first opened in 2010, the ice was ready in time for Thanksgiving.
That hasn't happened since, Osborne said.
As a naturally frozen ice rink, the IceBox is subject to the whims of Mother Nature, and when things heat up, the ice can be too dangerous to skate on, DeGarmo said.
"Even our adult leagues, we're cramming into January, February, the beginning of March," DeGarmo said. "It's challenging to get all those games in. We have cancellations here and there, and without refrigeration, there's just nights where it's not safe to play."
Now, if "refrigeration" makes you think of an enclosed rink and plummeting thermostat, think a little deeper, as in under the ice itself.
The ice itself sits atop a large concrete pad. When it was poured toward the end of 2010, the concrete covered an intricate latticework of tubing "charged" with glycol – the basic infrastructure for a below-ice refrigeration system.
The association has already been forced to cancel games this month due to high temperatures.
A functioning refrigeration system would not only hedge against warmer weather in January, but it would also extend the playing season, allowing leagues to start earlier and play later.
"If we were able to extend the season, we could have a couple different leagues," DeGarmo said. "We could have an early season league, a late season league. There's a lot we could do if we knew that we could have ice that was safer."
Unfortunately, the system lacks what is essentially its fulcrum – an expensive compressor unit.
Add to that the cost of running three-phase power to the rink from County Road 5, and the total cost could be around $500,000, Ledin said.
Compressor will hinge on assessment
Whether the facility gets a new compressor could hinge on the results of the Fraser Valley Recreation District's community needs assessment.
The assessment is part of the district's revision of its organizational master plan, seeking input from residents and visitors to prioritize upcoming projects in the district.
The questions include one specifically addressing refrigeration at the IceBox.
Preliminary results from the assessment have shown some interest in funding refrigeration at the rink, but Ledin said the district still needs to gather more information.
As a partially enclosed rink, the IceBox doesn't have an especially common design, so determining operating costs for a refrigerated facility will take some time, Ledin said.
"We're really trying to wrap our arms around that right now," Ledin said. "I think in the future that will lead to a fundraising effort to get the capital dollars to make this happen."
The association is already looking for additional funding options, including a contest from Kraft Foods Group Inc. Kraft Hockeyville is offering $150,000 in arena upgrade to the winning rink.
Once funding is secured, the construction process for the compressor could last as long as 10 months, DeGarmo said.
Even if the district decides to fund the project in the next few months, installing it before next season would be a challenge.
But Osborne isn't giving up.
"I personally will push as hard as I can to get it done before next season," Osborne said, "but I'm not in control of the situation."
For more information about the Fraser Valley Hockey Association, visit http://fraservalleyhockey.com.
To get involved in the Kraft Hockeyville contest, visit http://krafthockeyville.com.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.