A number of user groups in Port Alberni are waiting to find out when the ice will be returning to the Alberni Valley Multiplex.
Jean Leshures, director of skating with the Mount Arrowsmith Skating Club, said that most of the club programs have been cancelled. The club did buy ice in Parksville for a competition last weekend, but because the Oceanside Arena has its own users, some students had to be pulled out of school to make use of the limited ice time.
“Since that’s finished, we’ve just got our fingers crossed that we’re going to have our own ice back in soon,” said Leshures.
While the Alberni Valley Minor Hockey Association (AVMHA) has been able to reschedule league games or hold them in different arenas, practices have largely been cancelled. The association has also lost at least two tournaments with the multiplex closure. The Midget Rep Tournament scheduled for Remembrance Day weekend and an Atom Recreational Tournament scheduled for this coming weekend have already been cancelled, and an upcoming Novice Tournament will most likely have to be cancelled, as well.
“Even if the ice goes in tomorrow…it’s six to eight days to make the ice,” said AVMHA president Mike Doucette. “It’s a pretty safe bet we’re probably going to lose the Novice Tournament.”
Tournaments, explained Doucette, are a very big deal for local hockey teams. The Midget Rep Tournament, for example, raises around $7,000 to $8,000 in profit from team registration fees and raffles.
“It’s a big percentage of their operating budget for the year,” Doucette said. “It’s a big hit when you miss your hometown tournament.”
The skating club will also be losing some revenue, as the club’s CanSkate and CanPower programs will be refunding registration fees by 50 percent. The club also has seven paid employees that are currently out of work. Doucette said the AVMHA hasn’t made a decision on refunds yet.
“The fallout of all the damage to all the user groups is going to be significant,” said Leshures. “It’s a sad situation all around, for all the users, because most of us have registrations that we collect. You can’t get angry because it’s closed for a very good reason,” she added. “We’re just laying low to see what happens next.”
The city’s annual Winter Wonderland public skating event could also be affected by the extended Multiplex closure. The event usually starts the first week of December. Willa Thorpe, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Heritage, said she hasn’t made a decision on whether to cancel Winter Wonderland or not.
“We’re going through the process right now to determine what our next steps are,” she said.
Cancelling Winter Wonderland could give user groups some extra ice time in December, but it would take away from a popular public event.
“The window of opportunity hasn’t closed yet to run Winter Wonderland,” Thorpe said: it will depend on when the city can turn on the ice refrigeration plant again and make ice.
While there is some revenue generated from Winter Wonderland, user groups also pay for ice time, she explained. The Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ BC Hockey League team has also had to postpone a number of home games which will have to be rescheduled.
Thorpe said she has been keeping in close contact with user groups throughout the process and “that won’t change.”
Doucette agreed that the city has been “very good” about updating user groups about the arena. “I’ve been really pleased with the communication from everyone,” he said. “I also know the importance of safety. We’d hate to have something happen here like what happened in Fernie.”
The AVMHA has an “amazing” executive committee working hard to reschedule games and keep in contact with other rinks, he added.
“Everyone has been pulling together and trying to make the best of an unfortunate situation,” said Doucette.