BSSHA expands community programs

By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – The National Hockey League season is in full swing, its annual Winter Classic on New Year’s Day drawing more than 42,000 fans to Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Hockey is also underway in Big Sky, but the local nonprofit that manicures the ice rink in Town Center offers more than slap shots and hip checks.

The Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association is expanding broomball, hockey and youth programs in 2015 with help from a number of funding sources including Big Sky area resort tax as well as the association’s first golf tournament fundraiser last August, called the IceHouse Open. BSSHA raised $5,000 through the tourney, and the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation matched those funds to help build a storage shed for the organization’s Zamboni.

Now in its fifth season in Big Sky Town Center Park, BSSHA’s ice rink has come a long way. The nonprofit was born in fall 2010, when Bozeman’s Simkins-Hallin Lumber Co. picked up boards from an ice rink in North Dakota, courtesy of Hussey Plumbing.

Founders Ryan Hamilton, Griffin Kilby and Ryan Blechta rallied the community to raise the rink, assembling the weathered boards and painting them. Without permanent lighting that first winter, skaters used the rink during daylight hours though some toughed out the ice at night.

“There were construction lights hanging from the caging,” said Blechta, the current BSSHA board president, referring to the fencing behind each goal that stops errant pucks. “It was very tough at night. We could hardly get goalies to play because they were basically guessing where the puck was.”

Blechta picked up a makeshift Zamboni made by John Deere from Moonlight Basin’s old ice rink that year and he, Hamilton and Kilby, along with a slew of additional community volunteers, spent frigid nights flooding the rink. The process of making ice is still the same – volunteers use a fire hose to cover the rinkbssha_1 with water at night – but lighting and new equipment has made the process easier and the ice smoother.

With six permanent light fixtures this season and a proper Zamboni acquired from a now-defunct ice rink in Four Corners, BSSHA is building upon its community programs.

The youth hockey program operates on Sunday and Thursday evenings and focuses on learning to skate as well as hockey fundamentals. Expanding from 12 youth participants last year, approximately 25 kids ages 4-13_are currently signed up for the program, according to Blechta.

Utilizing $1,500 from the Big Sky Resort Tax Board, along with a $2,500 grant from YCCF, the organization purchased new equipment last summer for the youth program, headed up this year by Scott “STP” Leuzinger, Steve Rapp, and Steve Ditullio.

The Ophir after-school program also brings kids to the rink on Tuesday evenings from 5-6 p.m., introducing them to broomball and allowing them to get a different type of outdoor exercise in the winter.

“They have a blast hitting ball around,” said Blechta of broomball, a sport similar to hockey but played with a ball instead of a puck, a “broom” instead of a stick, and without skates. “Everybody’s here for skiing, but having another activity is always fun.”

The adult broomball league holds games at the rink Tuesday evenings from 7-11 p.m. With new rink dividers this season, BSSHA can host two games simultaneously.

The organization holds adult drop-in hockey games Sundays and Thursdays and open skating to the public daily from 12-5 p.m.

But the big attraction is the annual Pavelich Invitational hockey game, held in honor of Detroit Red Wings great, Marty Pavelich, who has four Stanley Cup wins under his belt and also has a home in Big Sky.

“That’s amazing,” said Chris Grace, a BSSHA board member and also the organization’s marketing and PR representative. “It’s like saying I know someone who’s won four Super Bowls. He’s pretty much a skating legend.”

Now in its fifth year, the Invitational is free to the public and teams face off on Friday, Jan. 9 at 6 p.m.

BSSHA prides itself on the efforts of its volunteers, who perform all aspects of rink maintenance and lead the wide variety of programs it offers.

“Anything we can do to get community and visitors involved, we’re open for it,” Grace said.

Visit bssha.org for details and a complete calendar of events.