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EGF Blue Liners scrap natural sheet for artificial one

Mark Cowger, a self-employed carpenter in East Grand Forks who played basketball growing up, recalls the first time he tried to make natural ice for his kid's hockey club.

Mark Cowger, a self-employed carpenter in East Grand Forks who played basketball growing up, recalls the first time he tried to make natural ice for his kid's hockey club.

He had some help, but it didn't make much difference, he said.

"We had a carpenter, a camper salesman and a police detective doing it, so our experience when it came to making ice was not that great."

Cowger said it resulted in ice topped with rolling water that the youth players had fun splashing in. More sage ice makers explained later that the floor hadn't been chilled enough.

Cowger, a board member in the East Grand Forks Blue Line Club, says he learned his lesson and got much better at the art of ice making. The only problem, the Blue Line Arena, a converted temporary school building for Crestwood Elementary after the Flood of 1997, is too efficient when it comes to retaining warmth.


Good for watching hockey. Bad for keeping good ice.

Last Friday, with temperatures in the sub-zero range, the arena building, despite not being sealed totally from the elements, was a balmy 42 degrees inside, according to Rod Hajicek, a fellow club board member.

Often, it would be December and hockey season half over before conditions were right for good ice, Cowger said.

After two seasons of fighting weather, Cowger and other club members made a decision last spring to forego flooding the arena for ice, and instead, focused on raising money to install artificial ice. This meant accelerating the club's five-to-seven-year plan to make the $340,000 investment now.

Cowger said the Blue Line Club already has received nearly $57,000 in cash donations and in-kind construction services. That is on top of the more than $150,000 worth of volunteer labor that has been put into the arena over the past three years.

Today, crews from A&S Contracting from Climax Minn., are expected to begin preparing the arena floor for an ice chilling system that will be embedded in concrete. This after Gowan Construction of Oslo, Minn., removed the old floor for free, a $35,000 to $40,000 value.

Hajicek said more than 4,700 mailings will be sent out citywide toward the end of this week to let citizens know about the project and how they might contribute.

Hajicek, a longtime police officer in East Grand Forks, said ice time is a rare commodity in the city with several groups competing for a handful of indoor sheets. The Blue Line Club has 250 players. About 50 of those are in the youngest age group, so the problem will persist for some time.


Taking the Blue Line Club Arena out of the circulation only has exacerbated the need for quality ice time, he said.

Before, club members would pay as much as $45 an hour for ice time in the arena. Now, they're forced to use the Olympic ice sheet at Ralph Engelstad Arena, which costs three times as much.

"It's got to be done," Hajicek said. "We've got to have the ice time for these kids. Our program isn't getting any smaller. In fact, it's getting bigger."

The club gets some of its revenue from local gaming proceeds, about $1,300 a month. Event concessions generate another $14,000 annually. The rest comes from ice-time fees, raffels and other fundraisers.

Cowger said the board has considered financing to pay for what they need, but they're hoping a fundraising campaign will help it avoid that route. If all goes well, the arena could have artificial ice in time for hockey season next fall.

Club members and volunteers have tried to build the arena into a quality facility and not just a shell of a building over ice. It has newly built restrooms, locker rooms, a concessions area and heated waiting areas. A giant scoreboard and Zamboni also are part of the building.

Its newest addition arrived Friday, a compressor system to make ice. The club bought it and some hockey boards from a Moorhead ice complex for $15,500. A compressor can go for $100,000.

The boards were resold to Devils Lake for $8,000. The club hopes to buy new boards for the rink when the artificial ice is ready.


"That's the last step to get this from a practice arena to a first-class facility," Cowger said.

Dodds reports on the region. Reach him at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or ddodds@gfherald.com .

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