ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Cory Portner is hoping that some of the work being done on the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center practice rink on Monday, July 27, is a step closer to people using the facility again.
Portner, St. Cloud State University's director of the arena, was overseeing the ice returning and the painting beneath it. On Aug. 3, the practice rink is scheduled to be available for captain's practices for SCSU's men's and women's hockey teams and for use by community groups and teams.
The ice on both sheets of ice at the Brooks Center was taken out on March 13 after the hockey seasons were halted by the coronavirus pandemic. The main rink, where the Huskies play their home games, will have the ice returning on Aug. 10 and is scheduled to be back in use on Aug. 14.
"We've had some bookings that we had pushed from April to August and we want to try to fulfill those if we can," he said of some youth hockey tournaments.
Water-based paint is used in painting lines and any artwork at the arena, so the paint freezes as it dries.
"We'll seal it in real good (Monday) night before we go home and then we will starting building (the ice) tomorrow and it will take us three days to get up to that inch (thick)," said Portner, who had six staff members and his two sons working on painting the ice.
Before the pandemic shut everything down, St. Cloud State had planned to take the ice out at the end of April through the month of May for the practice rink.
A positive that came out of the ice going out early and being out this long is that Portner and his staff have been able to take care of a number of projects at the facility.
A few of the highlights include:
"We're hoping that when the youth come back, they're energized by the new look," Portner said. "It's pretty subtle, but those that play here a lot will notice.
"We were considered essential (workers) and we've just been doing all the things that we've never gotten a chance to do. We've had a chance to go through things a lot better from a maintenance perspective than we normally would and we were able to pace them out a little better."
The Brooks Center typically is a host facility for a number of camps and tournaments during the summer, including events for Minnesota High Performance and USA Hockey.
So what's it been like to not have all those events going on?
"I bought a boat last year and, I hate to say it, but I've used it quite a bit," Portner said. "We cancelled quite a few tournaments and the money (for the university) is one thing, but it's not the biggest thing. The tough thing is the guys who run those tournaments in the offseason need that. That's their business, so it was really tough to tell some of those guys that we were pulling ice out. Although, everyone totally understands, but it's still tough.
"It's even harder to not see kids in here. It's been really hard coming to the rink and both sheets of ice are out. There's a layer of comfort with it, but also an extreme layer of discomfort."
New resurfacing machine
Portner said that the Brooks Center is getting a new resurfacing machine and has entered a mutual agreement with the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes that could be in place for up to 12 years. St. Cloud State is getting a used resurfacing machine this year and one next year from Carolina.
The two resurfacing machines that St. Cloud State has been using are 18- and 20 years old, respectively.
"That's a big purchase for us and we're pretty excited," Portner said. "(The machines) have automated laser-leveling systems. So as you drive, it adjust the blade to cut the depth. So the guys who drive the machine don't have to worry about that.
"It's like a laser dozer. You just set the benchmark, drive around and let it do it's thing... If it goes over a low spot, it raises the blade up and build the area up and if it goes over a high spot, it will lower the blade down and shave the ice. It's going to help flatten the ice surface."
The new machines are manufactured by OLYMPIA. Carolina gets the machines that it uses for three years and then after the third and fourth years, the machines get moved to distributors that sell them. St. Cloud State won a bid to get Carolina's resurfacing machines and it could go through the next three cycles for the Hurricanes (up to 12 years).
New rules for use, safety
People and organizations that use the Brooks Center have been notified about some rule changes for using the facilities when the facility opens back up.
A few of the key ones are that everyone entering the Brooks Center must wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose. Parents of players who are 10-and-under can help the players get situated, but cannot stay to watch practices. Parents of players older than 10 are not allowed in the facility for a practice at all. When youth games are taking place, two parents per player are going to be allowed to watch games at the rink.
Coaches must wear facemasks into the rink and wear them at all times that they are inside the facility. Players have to wear their helmets and facemasks, but do not have to wear masks when they are wearing their helmets on the ice.
There will be one-way foot traffic flow patterns and ice times have been staggered.
The Brooks Center has six people who are certified to resurface the ice surfaces. Because of the pandemic, it is going to cause for some scheduling changes.
There will be one resurfacing person per shift, even during tournaments. Portner said that they are doing that because if he has two resurfacing drivers (or more) get sick at the same time, it will cause a number of scheduling issues.
Fall sports delay
The NSIC announced Monday that it is delaying the beginning of its fall sports. For the sports of football and cross country, the first permissible practice will be Sept. 2 with the first date of competition scheduled for Sept. 26. For volleyball and soccer, the first permissible practice will be Sept. 8 with the first date of competition scheduled for Oct. 2. St. Cloud State participates at the NCAA Division II level in the NSIC in all sports except for men's and women's hockey.
That announcement is not a good sign for starting the college hockey season on time. St. Cloud State's women's hockey team has typically opened its season the last weekend of September. St. Cloud State's men's hockey team was supposed to open its season on Oct. 4 with a home exhibition game against the University of Guelph.
But Canada’s national governing body of college sports, U Sports, canceled all events through Dec. 31, 2020, due to the coronavirus. The Huskies are scheduled to open the season on Oct. 10 with a home series against Arizona State.