photo by Dennis Dalman
Zayda Thalacker of Sartell and her brother, Judson, prepare to put their skates on for some ice-skating fun Oct. 5 at the Bernick's Arena celebration. Judson is on a "Mite" team for the Sartell Youth Hockey Association.

Skaters celebrate hockey arena’s 10th birthday

by Dennis Dalman

It was a big, happy party on ice Oct. 5 as skaters young and old, pros and beginners, zipped and zig-zagged on the indoor rink of Bernick’s Arena to celebrate its 10th birthday.

The many skaters and onlookers cheered loudly when a 10th-anniversary “gift” was brought out onto the ice – the new Zamboni whose price tag was about $100,000. Money for the ice-surfacing machine, which is Sartell Sabres’ blue-and-white, was raised through several years of donations from sponsors, families, individuals and proceeds from a variety of events held at the arena.

Sartell Mayor Joe Perske attended the celebration, as did team members of the Granite City Lumberjack hockey team from St. Cloud, some members of the St. John’s University hockey team and Sartell Sabres hockey players. Scores of younger hockey enthusiasts, members of the Sartell Youth Hockey Association, also showed up to skate.

The Bernick’s Arena, named for one of its biggest sponsors, was built largely through volunteer labor 10 years ago as part of a public-private partnership between the City of Sartell and the Sartell Youth Hockey Association. The city donated half-cent sales-tax revenue for the project, along with grants such as a substantial Mighty Ducks grant. The association raised a huge amount of money and secured in-kind donations as well as thousands of hours of volunteer labor to make the arena a reality.

In its years of operation, the arena has not just been a focus for hockey, attracting players and revenue to the city and its businesses from far and wide, but it’s also served now and then as an events center, such as an annual rock concert that raised money for the Zamboni. Ongoing volunteerism, fees and donations by hockey association members – individuals and families – has also kept the arena thriving.

The Sartell Youth Hockey Association owns the Bernick’s Arena and is its biggest user, but a separate board – the Youth Recreation Center Board – is responsible for the operation of the arena and scheduling ice time and non-skating events at the arena. It also serves as a liaison between the association, the city and the school district. Rowan McDonell is president of the recreation board; Pat Michaud is president of the hockey association; and Jon Erickson is the arena’s manager.

The construction of the arena has given a boost to hockey participation among Sartell children. At any given time, there are up to 250 young people active in hockey, about 50 of that number being girls.

The young players range in age from 5 years old to up to 15, at which time they can play high-school hockey. There are various age categories in youth hockey with several teams in each. The youngest players are known as Mites, next oldest is Squirts, then PeeWees and Bantams.

Last year, many Sartell teams advanced to the state tournament, including the Bantam A team, the PeeWee A team and the PeeWee B team. For each category there are three types of teams: A, B, C. At the tournament in the metro area, the PeeWee B team came very close to defeating an Edina hockey team, rated as one of the best in the state. With one minute remaining to play, Edina tied the game and then that team won in overtime.

That kind of competitive success, say Sartell hockey enthusiasts, can be traced directly to players’ access to quality ice time, the presence of the arena and hundreds of hours of practice, sometimes on the many ponds in the Sartell area. As the 11th year of the arena begins, hockey players and fans predict even bigger successes in the coming years.

photo by Dennis Dalman
A swirl of skaters enjoy the ice during the 10th birthday celebration of the Bernick’s Arena in Sartell.

photo by Dennis Dalman
Zayda Thalacker of Sartell and her brother, Judson, prepare to put their skates on for some ice-skating fun Oct. 5 at the Bernick’s Arena celebration. Judson is on a “Mite” team for the Sartell Youth Hockey Association.

photo by Dennis Dalman
Members of the St. Cloud Granite City Lumbjack hockey team greet visitors at the front door of the Bernick’s Arena in Sartell during the facility’s 10th birthday party Oct. 5. The Lumberjacks were some of the event’s special guests who came from far and wide to help celebrate.

photo by Dennis Dalman
Skaters of all ages prepare to dash to the center of the Bernick’s Arena to get their photos taken with the new Zamboni and with Norby the Minnesota Wild mascot.

photo by Dennis Dalman
Sartell Mayor Joe Perske gets his photo taken with Norby the Minnesota Wild mascot in front of the new Zamboni machine. The Sartell Youth Hockey Association spent several years raising enough money to purchase the expensive ice-conditioning machine.

Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.
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