Nome’s ice rink is ready for action
It’s the time of year for ice skating and Nome’s ice rink is ready for skaters. The full-size hockey rink has lighting and a warming hut to chase away the chills. “We’re running a little bit late this year because of the weather,” said rink manager Bob Hafner. “It’s been hard to make the ice, so we haven’t been open as soon as we’d like but we’re getting layers of ice down to where the ice is smooth enough and safe enough for people to skate without getting injured.”
The rink is located on bare ground and is enclosed by a snug-fitting plywood fence, which allows flooding and subsequent freezing. To get smooth, seamless ice the flooding is repeated in layers of around half an inch. Gradually the surface gets smoother. Once there is a solid and smooth surface the ice must be regularly cleared of snow. So there’s lots of work to keeping the rink in tip-top shape.
The rink gets daily use by young skaters and two or maybe three times a week adult hockey players scrimmage.
“We’re getting some normal hours for this week and next week while we reassess what our money situation is,” said Hafner. “We’re probably going to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays this year due to a drying up funding source. My plans now are probably to go Wednesday through Sunday. At least we’ll be open on the weekends. On those days we’re open, I intend to do just like we did last year. Snack the kids in the afternoon on weekdays. On weekends we’ll snack and have hot chocolate. The kids come here straight from school and haven’t eaten since lunch. So, we feel an obligation to give them something to eat. As parents know kids get pretty cranky and hard to deal with when they’re hungry. And we’ve got 40 of them here.”
On Monday and Tuesday there’s open skate and hockey. Adult hockey is at 7 p.m. Friday and Sunday nights. And sometimes they play on Wednesdays as well. “If we don’t get full teams for both sides we play half ice and keep the other half open for open skate,” said Hafner. “That happens most of the time. Maybe ten times a year we take over the whole ice for the adults. We do that to give the adults an opportunity to really let go on some hockey for a while. They are also my volunteer force that come in to help flood the ice, do rink maintenance and do things like that. To get a repayment for that there are a few times we will claim the ice for ourselves. It’s dangerous out there when we have enough people to skate full ice.”
At the present time there is no organized hockey program for kids. There has been on in the past. “Years ago, about ten years ago, we had a good program with a kids team. But hockey takes a lot of parent involvement. All those kids had parents who came to the rink and helped shovel the snow before the practice, things like that. I’m down to myself and a couple of people who take care of the rink. It’s a little overwhelming.”
“We encourage the kids to play,” said Hafner. “I pick the ones who have the ability and coach them a little bit more, and then when we have the adults play we let them play with us for about 45 minutes. Then we go to all adults so nobody gets hurt. The good thing is we’re grooming those kids. On the flip side we’re also watching kids who are figure skating.”
Last year, gold mining concerns donated money to the rink and that enabled Hafner to take five kids into Anchorage for a skating and skills camp. Three young ladies were able to get individual figure skating coaching. “It was a tremendous experience. Those kids are here talking about it all the time. I’ve got all these kids who want to go again this year,” Hafner said.
“More than anything here I push behavior,” said Hafner. “If your skill isn’t high enough that you can play hockey with us we’ll always play down to your level because you’re showing some effort. The big thing I ask here is attitude from the kids. I as one person here can’t tie skates, fix boo-boos on kids, and run a program. Because every time I get them lined up to skate and where they need to be, somebody gets hurt on the rink or somebody needs skates. I get kids here who probably shouldn’t be here without a parent, without supervision. I become that supervision. They come with their brothers and sisters and I become the babysitter. I take care of them. We get those kids skating.” The Nugget observed that earlier that day a three-year old had donned skates and taken to the ice. “That’s when I started skating,” said Hafner. “I want them to learn, I’m not afraid of that. It’s a little overwhelming at times. But it doesn’t scare me.”
If kids want to skate at the rink what do they need to do?
“Show up,” said Hafner. “Show up and ask for skates. This is a free program. This is why we’re able to do what we do. If we charged for all this equipment we wouldn’t have 40 kids a day here. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do. So, ask me or one of my older kids for help finding the right skates and get them on right. Just show up, ask, and have a good attitude. That little three-year-old is out on the ice every day now. I’ve got another rink rat at that age.”