BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Centre ICE has taken a few hits this year to its bottom line, but hopes several new programs will help offset some lost funding.
A series of financial setbacks have reared their head this year:
- The hockey facility lost one of its biggest tenants when the Traverse City North Stars were sold to a group in Sault Ste. Marie. The Stars contributed more than $40,000 a season to Centre ICE in ice time alone.
- Then the facility lost the NHL Prospects Tournament — scheduled for Sept. 15-19 — when uncertainty about the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement caused teams to pull out. The CBA wasn't renewed when it expired on Sept. 15.
- The Northwest Warriors high school hockey team disbanded.
- The team that was supposed to replace the North Stars — the Traverse City Cohos — went dormant several weeks ago, just before the start of the Midwest Junior Hockey League season. Cohos owner Scott Gardiner said the team wasn't able to secure enough player contracts early enough to be assured of fielding a full time, but is hopeful the team will resurface next year.
- And now with the lockout still looming, the status of the Detroit Red Wings training camp is in doubt. Training camp is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 22-27.
"We'll get through it," Centre ICE executive director Terry Marchand said. "It's going to be a tough year for us, but we're got a lot of great support within our different organizations and the community."
Marchand said the rink has raised ice time rates by $10 an hour to help compensate for some for the lost business. Rates are $230 an hour, or $140 an hour for times Monday through Friday before 3 p.m.
The addition of several youth hockey tournaments will help add some funding, and Marchand is seeking more local businesses to purchase dasher board advertisements on the facility's two rinks.
"A good thing is our user groups are in very, very good positions," Marchand said. "Youth hockey is very strong, our figure skating association group is actually growing, the adult leagues are still strong and we still have the three high school teams, which is great."
"We're going to do what we can to sell more ice — offer more public programs, stuff like open skates and sticks and pucks, because they're very popular," Marchand said. "We'll have a little extra time now that we can offer to those."
Sticks and pucks is an open ice time for people to practice hockey skills like passing and shooting, but aren't actual games.
"We do them on the weekends now," Marchand said. "And we may offer them more during the week now."
Little progress has been reported in labor negotiations, so the Red Wings training camp remains in limbo.
"It's all going to depend on what's decided, if and when they sign a new agreement, that will dictate what the Wings do," Marchand said. "I know that if they sign one soon and if they're able to, the Wings would love to be able to come up here. They're a great supporter of ours."
The Grand Traverse Hockey Association runs 33 youth hockey teams that are major sources of income for Centre ICE.
"The last couple years, our little kids' program — which we call mites — has really been growing," Marchand said. "That bodes well for the future."
In addition, participation in girls' and women's teams are up, Marchand said, and Centre ICE will debut a co-ed adult hockey league later this fall. Seven of the GTHA's 33 teams last year were girls squads, and the Mite age group only practices and doesn't play games, so there are no teams at that level.
GTHA director Dallas Drake said they had close to 600 skaters in last year's program.
"It's kind of hard (to tell) right now," Drake said of numbers for this year. "Kids are starting in about three weeks. I know our younger age groups, last year we had a whole bunch of Mites and Squirts. That kind of feeds the program. It's a good foundation for us to get numbers going again."
The GTHA hosts its Mite jamboree next weekend.
"I think everything will be fine," Drake said. "I bet you we'll have numbers similar to last year."
The Traverse City Figure Skating Club has 50 girls and two boys signed up, which is on par for previous years, although that number could increase with some membership events coming up.
"Right now, it seems like we're doing OK," skating club director Laurent Masse said. "It seems we're right around the average that we've had. We'd of course like to bump it up."
Masse said he's hoping the club can increase its 52-skater current membership when it hosts a free skate on Sept. 30 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The club is also starting to register interested skaters for basic skills sessions that start in October.
Skating club office manager Vicki Restainer said the group has already maxed out its limits on Wednesdays. They are limited to 20 skaters on the ice at any time, and have hit that mark on Wednesday.
Although the Cohos have gone dormant for a year, Gardiner said he hopes to revive the franchise for next season. Marchand said he has had contact from another Junior league about the possibility of a team in Traverse City.