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Chris Murphy, Published February 06 2014

Fargo youth hockey group gives up on getting more sheets of ice at Scheels Arena

FARGO – Ace Brandt put his shovel into the ground of his land at 51st Street and 32nd Avenue South here on June 27, 2007.

The $34 million plan called for what is now Scheels Arena and four additional sheets of ice that would adequately house Fargo youth hockey for years to come.

“It’s really for the youth,” Brandt said in 2007.

The only sheet of ice on that land in 2014 is the one housed in Scheels Arena, and the head of Fargo’s youth hockey group doesn’t expect the other four will ever be built.

“We have given up on the Scheels Arena association,” Fargo Youth Hockey Association President Matt Sullivan said. “We don’t think that there’s any parking to have extra sheets of ice around there. If we’re going to have four more sheets and run tournaments out there, there’s just no more space. There’s a possibility of maybe putting one (sheet of ice) out there, but that doesn’t do anything for us.”

Sullivan is looking for other options for Fargo youth hockey.

“It doesn’t sound like that’s an interest over there anymore,” Sullivan said. “We’re kind of looking for other avenues. We’ll probably do it privately and maybe find some park district land or some private land to at least try to build a couple sheets of ice.”

Scheels Arena General Manager Jon Kram said just because the youth hockey group is looking elsewhere will not change the plan to get more sheets of ice near Scheels Arena.

“We are sticking to the original vision,” Kram said. “I would say we’re closer than we’ve been before. We’re now starting to discuss what would be the right plan to go about it. I would love to see additional rinks, but it has to be done the right way. The worst thing we could do is rush into it.”

Kram couldn’t set a specific time frame as to when additional ice sheets would come to Scheels – a facility that is publicly owned, but privately financed and managed.

“It’s going to require a well-thought-out fundraising plan to make sure it’s financially stable,” he said. “I can’t tell you if that’ll happen in a year or three years. I’d like to say two to four years.”

Sullivan said the Fargo Youth Hockey Association doesn’t have that much time. From 2009 to 2012, the group added 175 new players, and it will add 65 this year.

“We feel like we need a couple sheets of ice within the next two years just to continue to go as we are right now,” Sullivan said. “There hasn’t been a lot of push for new ice because we’ve done a good job of utilizing it efficiently. We rarely have an ice day where we only have one team on the ice anymore. This year, we kind of felt like we’re pretty much maxed out.”

He said the only option remaining is to move ice days to Wednesdays, but he doesn’t want to do that. Wednesday is typically an off night for high school sports.

“We have our little kids doing Wednesdays because they really don’t have confirmation or church night, but the only place to go now with the kids that do is Wednesday,” Sullivan said. “We don’t feel like it’s an option.”

Another wrinkle is the possibility of North Dakota State University men’s and women’s basketball teams playing in Scheels Arena while the Bison Sports Arena is being renovated.

“I know they’re negotiating to have basketball out there, so there goes Thursdays and Saturdays every other week,” Sullivan said. “That displaces more high school teams, that displaces the Force and that pushes plans back for the sheets of ice. It just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.”

He said it isn’t only the youth hockey group that hurts from the lack of additional ice. They are beginning to consider reducing the size of hockey tournaments due to the difficulty of scheduling at existing facilities. Youth hockey tournaments generated $3.5 million in direct spending in the community last year, he said.

“This will not only affect the profits FYHA brings in, but also reduce the economic impact the tourneys have on the community,” Sullivan said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548