The Princeton Youth Hockey Association faces a six-figure financial challenge after an unexpected floor failure dumped refrigerant from the Princeton Ice Center’s East Rink.
Getting the ice operational could cost as much as $750,000. The inability to make ice is an association’s worst nightmare. According to Princeton Youth Hockey Association President Todd Frederick, there’s a break somewhere under the concrete floor.
“We have to get the East Rink up and running. We have two youth associations, Princeton and Becker-Big Lake, and right now, we are just operating on the West Rink. We have three high school programs that operate out of the arena as well,” Frederick said. We as a board have worked extremely hard to investigate our options. We are determined to have the ice sheet up and running by Dec. 1.”
The problem surfaced about a week and a half ago, Frederick told the Union-Times earlier this week.
Rink Freezing Process
“Normally, we start making ice by bringing the East Rink up first,” he said. “What happened was we started the chiller up and began to cool that side of the rink down.”
The company that starts the rink’s system, St. Cloud Refrigeration, noticed that the system was not holding pressure, Frederick said.
“We went under the assumption that the system might need a little topping off,” he explained.
The association had more coolant brought in, Frederick said. The rink coolant system still wasn’t holding pressure and was leaking.
That event created a catastrophic pipe break in the floor. “We have a total of about 7,000 pounds of coolant in the East Rink system,” he explained.
“They were able to capture the remaining coolant, but given the rate of loss, SCR determined a main, larger pipe, bigger than 2 inches, and had failed.”
Board Calls Meeting
After learning about the pipe break in the floor, Frederick said the Princeton Youth Hockey Association Board called an emergency meeting to determine options for stabilizing the cooling system.
One of the options was trying to pinpoint the leak.
“We brought SCR in, and determined that there were two areas to cut on the floor. One area was up by the Zamboni access doors. That was a significant area and there was one other, and we weren’t able to find the break,” Frederick said.
Jamen Lewis is vice president of Maverick Cutting & Breaking out of Minneapolis. “He has a son in hockey, and he helped us out by getting a crew there,” Frederick said.
“That’s what we are doing right now [Monday, Sept. 14] – pulling the East Rink’s concrete floor.”
Concrete Comes Out
Frederick said Maverick Cutting and Breaking workers just pulled the rink seam, the area the boards and glass enclose, the ice surface’s actual diameter.
In order for the association to stay on schedule, Frederick said cutting crews needed to finish their work on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.
Gage Chafee, Princeton’s new girls’ high school hockey coach, owns a company out of the Big Lake and Becker area that will pull the cement out of the arena.
The next step in returning the East Rink to action is replacing the flooring and putting the concrete back down, Frederick said.
The Princeton Ice Arena is privately owned by the association, which is also going to replace a chiller.
“We had started prepping for this a few years ago,” Frederick said. “We actually have a chiller that we were paying on that’s at the refrigeration company. It’s ready to go and be installed. It’s a used chiller from a different ice arena.”
The replacement chiller uses glycol as its coolant and is more efficient, he said.
That lower cost estimate was provided by Rink-Tec International, Inc. a company that has been designing and building rink refrigeration systems since 1979. The company’s U.S. office and Minnesota headquarters is located in Vadnais Heights.
“They will be doing the actual build of the floor itself,” Frederick said. “They are probably the premier company in rink floor building. They met with us last Monday or Tuesday morning.” Frederick said a company supervisor had just flown in and had been working with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks on two new ice rinks.
Board Gets Aggressive
“This has been a process that’s day-by-day,” Frederick said, adding: “We are determined as a youth hockey association board to get the rink up and running. It’s important to our community and the kids we have in our association.”
Frederick estimated that annually, about 65,000 people come through the doors of the Princeton Ice Arena and use the facility for games and practices.
“We also have other associations, such as Rogers and Elk River, that rent ice from us,” he explained. When it’s all said and done, if you take the Princeton association, the Becker-Big Lake association, and you take the three high school programs, we provide skating for well over 400 kids. And if you add other associations that come up here to practice, we are probably over 500 kids.”
Currently, the Princeton Youth Hockey Board has nine members. Frederick said that dealing with the floor failure has required an all-hands-on-deck effort.
Financial Help Needed
“We are going to exhaust all of our means and options dealing with this,” he said. “We are going to do this right, get a new floor, and move forward.”
The Princeton Youth Hockey Association needs the community’s help, he added. “I’m not going to sugar-coat this,” Frederick said. “The unfortunate thing about this is that our association members already do so much. We are working with our current bank [Village Bank, based in Ramsey]. They hold the mortgage on the arena and we’ve had multiple conversations with them. They are trying to come up with refinancing options, but ultimately, we have to do fundraising to cover this.”
Princeton Youth Hockey Board members Joe Hostrawser and Ben Heath have organized a GoFundMe page as a fundraising tool, Frederick explained.
Donations are 100% tax deductible. “If you visit the GoFundMe website and search for Princeton Youth Hockey Association, that site will come up,” Frederick said.
The GoFundMe page for the association has been up less than a week.
“We are also working on a plaque recognition program as another fundraising tool,” Frederick said. “By donating, people could get their names up on a wall at the rink. I’m also looking for Princeton-based companies and those in Becker and Big Lake to help. We know that times are tough right now with COVID-19.”
Regarding the pandemic, Frederick said youth hockey associations, including Princeton, returned to skating this week.
“We still have the West Rink, and kids started skating on that rink Monday night. Our arena manager, Missy McAlpine, along with our board and Becker-Big Lake’s board, have worked hard to develop COVID-19 protocols and guidelines we’ve adopted from Minnesota Hockey.”
Minnesota Hockey is the statewide governing body of youth and amateur hockey in Minnesota and an affiliate of USA Hockey. Minnesota Hockey provides volunteer services for the development and promotion of all youth hockey.
Frederick coaches the Princeton boys’ hockey team. His two daughters also play.
“As president, I’m extremely confident we have a good plan in place, and we are going to do our part by keeping these kids safe,” Frederick said. “Minnesota Hockey and District 10 are watching closely. The better job we do when it comes to maintaining COVID-19 guidelines, the better we can provide hockey.”
Pandemic Hits Funding
According to Frederick, as of this week, there’s no indication youth hockey programs will be canceled.
“There may be some restrictions and reductions, like high schools are looking at, but we are moving forward with hockey,” he said.
COVID-19 has created financial difficulties for the Princeton Youth Hockey Association, and has affected revenues produced by charitable gambling.
“When bars and restaurants were closed, we didn’t have any gambling revenue coming in,” he said. “For our association, that offsets a lot of our kids’ expenses. We are estimating we lost about $200,000 because of COVID.”
Revenues collected from charitable gambling helps fund the association’s hardship relief program for families, Frederick said.
“We have been very good about helping those families. Because we don’t have any revenue coming in, we’ve had to suspend that program. That is really killing our board,” he said.
“We need help. It could be a contractor or a company that has employees who played hockey and want to help,” Frederick added. “They don’t have to live here.”
The East Rink was built approximately 47 years ago, Frederick said. The Princeton association is getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary of hockey this year.
“We could have made the decision just to run with one sheet of ice and make it work, but we have nine youth hockey teams, not including our Tiny Tigers and our Mites, who use our facility. Becker-Big Lake has about the same number of teams. You have two associations with youth programs. Our Tiny Tigers has 60 kids.”
Frederick said there’s no way to make one rink work with five ice user groups.
“It became rather clear quickly that we needed to get our East Rink back up and running,” he said.
Princeton boys’ high school team captains were responsible for getting 25 players to help with boards and glass removal, Frederick said, adding other business owners and adults also helped with that project.
“We had originally slated two weeks for that project,"he said. "Within six hours, those items had been totally removed.”
The Princeton Youth Hockey Association provides a great experience for kids while they are growing up, Frederick added. “We keep striving to provide positive experiences for kids in our community.”
Visit www.princetonyouthhockey.com to learn more about the association and the programs and teams that it supports.