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Local groups raise funds for ice rink development

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Marty Pavelich (center) drops the puck at the 2019 Pavelich Invitational tournament. PHOTO COURTESY OF RYAN BLECHTA

Rink to honor former NHL player and Big Sky resident Marty Pavelich

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – Every Sunday for 10 years, Marty Pavelich, four-time Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings, would attend church, eat breakfast and go skating at the ice rink in Big Sky’s Town Center. Pavelich, now 94, hung up his skates for good in 2020, but two local organizations are working to ensure his legacy lives on in perpetuity.

Pavelich poses on the ice during his time with the Detroit Red Wings. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARTY PAVELICH

Big Sky Community Organization and the Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association are partnering on a campaign to raise $600,000 for the development of a permanent ice rink, one they’ll name after Pavelich. The rink, which found its permanent home as part of the BASE community center campus in 2021, has long been a gathering place for Big Sky residents during the dark winter months, offering opportunities after chairlifts stop spinning to skate, curl or play hockey.

The campaign started in July and the goal is to raise the funds as fast as possible to hold a ribbon cutting with Pavelich in attendance. Funds raised by the campaign will cover half of the cost to build the permanent rink, establish a rink maintenance fund and purchase more youth hockey gear among other things.

“We want Marty to see the appreciation that the community has for not only his Red Wings history and being a local but all he did to build the program, to build the rink, to get this group of people together in 2010 and to have him see the community’s support and appreciation,” said Kate Ketschek, BSCO board chair.

Pavelich has been a part of the community for over 30 years. In 2011, one year after the BSSHA crew threw together a makeshift rink, the association held the first Pavelich Invitational hockey tournament on the ice in Big Sky’s Town Center, a tradition that’s since occurred annually. Over the years, Pavelich served as an important driver behind the creation of BSSHA and the organization’s efforts to build an ice rink in Big Sky, according to Ryan Blechta, president of the BSSHA board and a member of the BSCO board.

“I’m thrilled that they’re naming it after me,” Pavelich said. “I feel very honored.”

Blechta said Pavelich was an ambassador for BSSHA, attending meetings from the beginning of the organization in 2010 and providing guidance on how to make the ice and build the rink.

A zamboni smooths the ice of the rink by BASE community center. PHOTO COURTESY OF RYAN BLECHTA

Starting in 2020, BSSHA and BSCO have been in discussions about merging the efforts of their two organizations. Moving forward, BSCO will take over operations and maintenance of the rink and programming and BSSHA will continue to lead fundraising efforts, help with programming and provide coaches.

The agreement has been signed by both organizations and is currently undergoing final approval by the Montana Attorney General’s office.

“We’re really looking forward to utilizing BSCO and their programming and their expertise, and the systems they have in place to really further our programming,” Blechta said.

Both Ketschek and Blechta emphasized the importance of continuing and expanding BSSHA’s programming, especially the youth hockey program. Blechta said youth hockey is an inexpensive option for families because BSSHA provides all the equipment for the kids. Currently, the program has over 100 participants ages 3 to 16 who take the ice weekly for clinics and games.

Pavelich said he loves to come watch the kids play games in the winter and hopes the growing interest in hockey will eventually provide some of them with the opportunity to play in college and pursue a professional hockey career.

Pavelich poses with the kids that played in the 2019 Pavelich Invitational. PHOTO COURTESY OF RYAN BLECHTA

Blechta said Pavelich has always had big dreams for hockey in Big Sky including building an enclosed ice rink and bringing National Hockey League teams here to play.

“I want to see a nice arena indoors that would seat about 5,000 people,” Pavelich said. “We can have rodeos, we could have dancing, we could have roller skating, we could do all of that.”

If that happens, Pavelich says he will be a “happy camper.”

The fundraising campaign is ongoing, and the organizations did not report a current total for funds raised so far. Blechta said there has been a steady stream of donations, adding that the plan is to step up the fundraising efforts in the coming months. Though there isn’t a firm end date for the fundraising campaign, Blechta said it would be ideal to reach the $600,000 mark by December and to hold the dedication when the rink opens.

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