By Doug Hare EBS Staff
BIG SKY – As Ryan Blechta, president of the Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association, recounts it, things came together more quickly than he could have imagined seeing all the improvements to the Town Center ice rink this winter. While BSSHA had long-term improvements planned, everything seemed to fall into place for the ice rink to have such a successful makeover in such a short amount of time.
Last June, with the approval of a $195,000 matching grant proposal from the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board, a grassroots fundraising effort took off that demonstrated strong support from the local community. “$5,000 and $10,000 donations came pouring in faster than I expected,” Blechta said. “We were able to reach our $115,000 goal by early August.”
With the bolstered funding, Blechta’s first move was to find an upgraded chiller for the rink to improve the consistency of ice conditions and temperature. “I was really fortunate to connect with Bob Bishop from Serv-Ice Refrigeration out of Michigan,” Blechta said. “He’s been an essential consultant through the whole process, and he even came out here for a week to help with the installation, the flooding process, and showing us the ropes of the coolant system.”
Bishop advised BSSHA that a rink needed to have less than 2-percent gradation from end to end in order to function properly. After taking a survey in the old location, the ground has closer to a 5-percent grade. In coordination with Ciara Wolfe, executive director of the Big Sky Community Organization, Blechta was able to pull together the resources to excavate, level and move lights to the new area that will serve as the permanent winter location for the ice rink, an unexpected, fortuitous development.
Another unforeseen donation from the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation allowed BSSHA to upgrade from a late ‘70s model Zamboni machine to a much newer model that cuts the ice with a precision that dramatically improves the quality of curling matches on Friday nights.
Blechta is glad that the improved amenities were attracting bigger crowds this winter, noting the two junior hockey leagues are seeing increased numbers, and there is a new three-on-three adult hockey league that is gaining in popularity. Open skates, broomball, hockey clinics and adult drop-in hockey have also seen more activity than in years past.
Now in his third year as president of BSSHA, Blechta was quick to point out the improvements to the rink couldn’t have been accomplished without the volunteer efforts and hard work of Gary Hermann, Scott Leuzinger, Steve Rapp, Jeff Trulen, Natalie Osborne and Steve DiTullio, among others.
Blectha hopes that with the new and improved cooling system the rink will be able to stay open until the resort closes in April. “That’s a big step. We used to lose the quality of our ice in February or March.”
On Jan. 12, BSSHA will host the ninth annual Pavelich Invitational Hockey Game, and for the first time ever, a Big Sky youth hockey team will take on an opponent from Bozeman at noon as a prelude to the match, in honor of Big Sky local and former Detroit Red Wing star Marty Pavelich.
For the full rink schedule, visit bssha.org/rink-schedule/.