Hockey tournaments a big boost to the local tourism economy
By Don Nelson
Despite a shorter season, the Winthrop Rink saw increased usage in several areas during its second winter of operation with a permanent refrigeration system.
Rink manager Connor Walsh recently reported on the rink’s 2017-18 performance, noting that the adults’ and kids’ hockey tournaments were again a big draw and generated a lot of revenue for the town’s hospitality businesses.
The rink closed last week as consistent warmer temperatures made it impractical to continue ice skating. The rink will open for pickleball in April, and roller skating will resume in June, Walsh said. He added that roller hockey may be added this summer.
The rink was open 100 days in 2017-18 compared to 115 days in 2016-17, the first year with refrigeration equipment, Walsh said. There were 9,182 total visitors for open skating, drop-in hockey and freestyle figure skating this season, compared to 10,171 in 2016-17.
However, attendance was up for the youth hockey program, with 82 participants this year compared to 71 last year. Drop-in hockey players totaled 1,357 in 2017-18 compared to 876 the previous year.
The second annual Apple Puck game, matching club hockey teams from the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University, drew 240 spectators.
There were 437 participants in the Fourth Grade Free Skate program, and 47 took part in the Learn to Skate classes.
Seven hockey tournaments — four youth tournaments and three adult sessions — drew a total of 55 teams, for a total of about 2,000 players, Walsh reported. Nearly every player — and especially the kids — came with other family members or friends.
Based on surveys completed by participants and their families, Walsh estimated that the combined tournaments generated $625,000 to $650,000 in local expenditures on food, lodging, shopping, gas and other items. He estimated that the first two years of operating with refrigeration, which made tournaments feasible to schedule, generated between $925,000 and $1 million in local expenditures.
Local participation was also gratifying, Walsh said.
“We saw a ton of new players in our hockey skills night, and intermediate and women’s drop-in sessions,” he said. “Chad Bresnahan led the hockey skills night again this year, with the help of Alex Ulmer, and has as many as 25 people a night running through hockey skills and drills.”
The outdoor rink opened in 2007, supported by a state grant and matching local contributions. Seasons were dependent on weather conditions. It wasn’t until 2016-17 that the project was completed with the installation of refrigeration equipment, thanks to another state grant and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of locally donated labor, materials and services.