Ice culture is growing in Central Oregon.
“Ice hockey, and ice sports in general, have had a presence here for a long time, but nothing like it is in the east,” says Scott Wallace of Bend Parks and Rec. “It’s not part of the culture. That’s what we’re trying to build here, the ice culture.”
In November of 2012, Bend voters passed Measure 9-86, which allocated funds for several projects across the Bend Parks and Recreation District. Construction is well-underway all across town, perhaps most visibly just downriver from the Old Mill District, where two of the new projects are gradually taking shape.
While the Colorado Dam Safe Passage project aims to augment the tremendously popular summer pastime of floating the river, its neighbor just uphill – the Simpson Ave. Site & Pavilion – seeks to bring something new to Bend’s winter recreation menu: Ice.
Since Wallace moved to Bend in 1969, he has been a part of Bend’s ice culture that has thrived in small pockets for decades. His father Roland “Wally” Wallace was a native of Calgary, Alberta, and having — like many Canadians — a deep passion for hockey, did perhaps more than anyone else to plant the seeds of the game in Central Oregon soil. Wallace’s father started the hockey programs at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain in 1971 and ran the programs for children through the Parks and Recreation district for 35 years.
“When I was a kid, we’d go to the Inn every Saturday. My dad would have a station wagon full of kids, and we’d play for three or four hours,” Wallace said.
It is that experience that Wallace hopes adding an in-town rink will offer the community.
In addition to the Inn of the Seventh Mountain, Sunriver also currently hosts hockey, figure skating, and public skating at its rink.
Oregon State University-Cascades Career Services Coordinator, Laura Kloss, assists in coaching the 11 and 12-year olds at the rink.
“The rink in Sunriver is so small, we are unable to teach systems and positioning to kids at this point. Instead, we focus on basic skills like skating, stick handling, passing and shooting. The arena is far too small for the adult league,” Kloss said.
Kloss and Wallace express appreciation for the existing facilities, but said they are simply not enough. Sunriver’s ice surface is about 100 by 50 feet, which is about a quarter the size of a National Hockey League regulation ice surface. That’s the key element of the Simpson Pavilion rink that has people excited. Among them is Matt McCoy, Central Oregon Community College Vice President of Administration and lifelong hockey player.
“There’s been an ongoing conversation — for decades – to get a full-sized rink and full-fledged ice environment,” said McCoy, who served on the board of BendICE, the non-profit volunteer organization that is working with Bend Parks and Rec in this venture. After all the years and efforts by private developers to make it happen, it was the introduction of a new player to the equation that made the difference.
“Having the Park District’s involvement and leadership,” explained McCoy, enabled the project to succeed.
Being a Parks and Rec facility rather than a private building and business, there will be greater opportunity for community use. And while current players (Wallace estimates there are about 150-200 in the Bend/Redmond area) are salivating at the potential for competitive leagues, the intention is to start at ground level and build up from a strong base. BendICE will work to make equipment and entry-level instruction available to all who are interested in learning the game.
This year’s mild winter may raise concerns that there could be years with insufficient ice at the Pavilion. “It’s been designed with an oversized chiller, and shading,” assured Wallace. “The district is doing everything it can to ensure that we protect the ice. It should be good from early November through early April.”
That leaves half the year for non-ice uses of the Pavilion. These are expected to include concerts, swap meets, basketball, festivals, and more.
Most of the buzz for now comes from a hockey community ready to bloom as it moves from its cramped quarters out of town and onto a full-sized sheet of local ice.
“The sport is sure to take off once kids and community members are exposed to the finesse, true grit, and team nature of ice hockey,” said Kloss. “From my perspective, there is no better game to play.”
The Simpson Ave. Site & Pavilion is on track to open around November 2015.
Adding curling to the recreational scene
For most Central Oregonians, the only time curling appears on the radar is during Winter Olympics. That may be about to change. With the expected completion and opening of the Simpson Ave Site & Pavilion around November 2015, curling will join ice hockey and figure skating as winter sports and recreation offerings in Bend.
Hockey and figure skating are not exactly new to the area, with the Inn of the Seventh Mountain and Sunriver each hosting skaters at their small ice rinks for years. Curling, however, will be a new introduction to the local menu, and it will take some time for people to learn the finer points of the game.
BendICE, the non-profit organization that has worked for years to bring a full-sized ice surface to Bend, will be working alongside Bend Parks and Recreation to develop the sport in the community, providing coaches, training, and equipment.
Given the commitment displayed by skaters in the area, the expectation that hockey and figure skating will thrive at Simpson Pavilion has a strong foundation. Curling has no such existing base going for it. So why introduce it?
“It seems like it would be a natural fit for the social culture of Central Oregon,” said Matt McCoy, Central Oregon Community College Vice President of Administration and former board member of BendICE. “You don’t have to ice skate, and if you like socializing, oftentimes it’s around a brewpub atmosphere.”
That atmosphere is in abundant supply in Bend, and those involved with BendICE and Parks & Rec hope it will spread to events at the Pavilion. Shuffleboard has become a fixture in some local pubs, and curling may hold a similar appeal for those interested in ice sports that are a bit more low-key than the fast-paced competition of hockey or the dizzying feats of figure skating. It’s all part of the plan to have something for everyone at the new facility.
“It’s a great social experience, bringing people together,” said McCoy. “Not everybody can afford to go to Mt. Bachelor, or has a snowmobile or a fat tire bike. We’re trying to bring an ice culture to Central Oregon that’s available to all sectors of the community.”
The sport originates about 500 years ago in Scotland, and was brought along with immigrants to Canada, where it has flourished since. While curling has taken its time in spreading to Central Oregon, it does have its place in the state. Klamath Falls has a curling club, as does Portland, whose Evergreen Curling Club was established in 2002. Washington, Idaho, and even Nevada have existing clubs. McCoy is among many hoping that Bend will follow suit.
Ice Hockey has flourished in Central Oregon for decades, albeit in small pockets out of mainstream sight. While Cascades Indoor Sports has provided a haven in Bend for those playing on a dry surface, skating on rollerblades, players of the original game on ice have had to look a little further from home, where Sunriver and Inn of the Seventh Mountain have long hosted hockey on their rinks for those willing to drive a few extra miles.
Hockey players pride themselves on being a tough, committed breed. One does not have to scratch far below the surface to find a profound dedication to the game. With the rinks at Inn of the Seventh Mountain and Sunriver being far smaller than a regulation hockey surface – too small to play a typical five-on-five game – many local players have gone far over the river and through the woods to satisfy their desire to play.
Matt McCoy, Central Oregon Community College Vice President of Administration, is one of them. McCoy has travelled often to Klamath Falls to play games on their full-sized ice sheet, and even for a time commuted all the way to Eugene to find playing opportunity.
“I used to play in a league over there,” said McCoy. “Living here, I’d drive over and play Sunday or Monday nights.”
With the construction of the Simpson Ave Site & Pavilion in Bend, hockey is soon to have a new home, and a chance to expand beyond its current local confines. For those that have been playing here, there is great excitement, and a sense that their patience and dedication are about to pay off. And while those players will have their opportunities, Bend Parks and Recreation aims to make the Pavilion a place for the whole community to learn the game and fall in love as so many others have.
“Leagues and travel will develop,” predicts Bend Parks and Rec board member Scott Wallace, “But the foundation is to get as many kids and adults exposed as want to play. Everybody who wants to play, gets to play.”
As next winter approaches, eyes will once again fall on Mt Bachelor in anticipation of ski season, and snowmobiles will reemerge from summer storage. The usual excitement will be joined by a new buzz, and the sounds of steel blades and wooden sticks on ice. There’s a new game in town.
Bobcats and Beavers on Ice?
There could soon be on-campus options for COCC or OSU-Cascades students interested in giving hockey or curling a try.
“We would certainly consider sponsoring teams,” said Bill Douglass, COCC Director of Club Sports and Intramurals. “Once we have enough students express interest we would look into obtaining equipment and working with the Parks District to add a team or teams to their respective leagues. A hockey team would be fun.”
Students who are interested are encouraged to contact the Office of Sports and Recreation.
Brian Hickey | The Broadside
Photo captions for hockey pictures:
Coach Meghan Herman supervising the 11-12 year olds in Sunriver.
Coach Justin Duke with the 11-12 year olds practicing in Sunriver.
Other recreational construction projects: Colorado Avenue Dam
Last summer, Bend Park and Recreation district won board approval to begin the Colorado Avenue Dam Safe Passage construction. This project is aimed to reconstruct the Colorado Dam with the intention of creating three river channels. The one would be for recreational river user and fish safe passage, one for wildlife habitats and one for active recreation.
The project is slated for completion by fall 2015 though work will continue in McKay Park and the Deschutes River Trail likely through 2016.
The project also includes construction of a new bicycle and pedestrian bridge and new park amenities at McKay Park on the river’s west side.