The National Sports Center Super Rink was gearing up this past March to host the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships for Girls Tier I and Women’s Senior divisions when the coronavirus hit the United States.
For the safety of everyone involved, USA Hockey made the decision to cancel its biggest annual event. The Super Rink, located in Blaine, Minnesota, also had to shut down. Pete Carlson, who is the director of ice arena operations, and his staff thought at the time the closure might be temporary.
A two-week shutdown stretched into June as the Super Rink went through unprecedented times. For the first time since the eight-sheet rink was constructed, Rinks 1-4 were closed.
“Which have never been out of ice since the day we put them in in 1998,” Carlson said.
On June 1, the Super Rink, one of the largest ice rink operations in the world, was back open for organizations to rent ice for practice only in a safe manner. No spectators were allowed in the building for the practices and kids could get inside the building 15 minutes prior to their scheduled ice time. Only nine skaters and one coach were permitted on a half sheet of ice during the month.
By July 1, games were being played and the Super Rink hosted three youth AAA tournaments.
With Minnesota mandating masks for all indoor facilities, players, coaches and parents had to wear face coverings starting near the end of July.
Being back open has been an interesting time for Carlson.
“Let’s just start off by saying we’re just so happy to be open and allowing kids to come in and skate.”
Even now, access to practices and games are limited. Only two spectators per skater are allowed in the rink, which generally means siblings and grandparents won’t be able to watch on-ice activities.
For Carlson, it’s tough for him to tell someone they can’t watch.
“One thing I’ve been saying to people when they ask the question, ‘How’s it going?’ I think this is what most ice rink managers say to people when they come in [the front door] is the word, ‘Yes,’” Carlson said. “I don’t know too many ice rink managers that when they’re asked a question from the skater, from the coach, from the spectator, our general answer is, ‘Yes.’ After about 99% of whatever the question is, ‘Can I go in and use the bathroom? Can I get an extra table? Can we get an extra net? Do you have any extra pucks, because I lost my puck? Do you sell hot dogs?’ Whatever the question is, ‘Yes.’
“The hardest part that has been the biggest problem for me is we’re saying, ‘No.’ It just stinks. ‘Can I come in without a mask?’ No. ‘Can I get five extra chairs?’ No. ‘Can I get an extra locker room?’ No. ‘Is your concession stand open?’ No. It’s just not in our vocabulary…then at the same time you go, we’re open. That’s the main thing.”
The Super Rink is open because of the steps that have been taken to ensure a safe environment.
Before players and parents are allowed to enter the rink, temperature checks are administered. There are hand sanitizing stations positioned throughout the arena and the staff is on a strict cleaning schedule.
Carlson noted any touch points have been eliminated. So, all tables and chairs that are generally in the viewing area have been removed. Spectators are forced to stand unless they are in the rink stands.
Inside the locker rooms, players are spaced out to adhere to social distancing. A half dozen chairs have also been placed outside each locker room so kids have the option of getting dressed there, too.
Following a practice or game, players have 10 minutes to exit the locker room. When a locker room is cleared out, the arena staff goes to work.
“We use a spray solution and it takes about five minutes to activate, but we’ve got 45 minutes until another group comes in,” Carlson said. “We spray that down. We spray the bench. We spray the hooks. We spray the handles. You don’t have to wipe it dry. It’s just a spray, so you let it sit and you go about your business.”
Carlson believes even after the coronavirus pandemic has been contained in the U.S. that the Super Rink will continue to spray locker rooms for the safety of the players. Germs always run rampant in locker rooms and using a spray can be an extra preventative measure.
The Super Rink, which is running six rinks at the moment, is a 300,000-square-foot facility that has four rinks and then a walkway that connects the other four rinks.
“It probably benefits us because we’ve got large hallways and large commons areas to get to each of the ice arenas,” Carlson said.
Carlson loves that he’s able to see smiling faces on the ice each day. With Minnesota proclaimed as the “State of Hockey,” it’s important for the kids to get on the ice. The Super Rink got the kids back skating all the while being safe.
“We were very careful before we got back to full go,” Carlson said. “I think we’re doing it well. I think we’re doing it safely. And I think for the kids that are coming in, it’s awesome for them to be on the ice for all the reasons that hockey and sports provide kids.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.