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.