Winter in Waukee usually brings bitterly cold temperatures and flying snow, forcing many to bundle up and stay inside until the spring thaw. But, the Iowa Wild, in partnership with Wells Fargo and the City of Waukee, wants to change your winter plans to include getting outdoors and onto the ice this season through its Community Rink Project.
“This is something we’ve wanted to do for quite some time,” said Josh Fisher, senior director of digital content and communications for the Iowa Wild. “Anyone from the Midwest knows it’s hard to fit outside health and wellness activities during the winter, but we want to help change that. Not to mention, we’re excited to help continue to build the game of hockey in Iowa at the same time.”
The Community Rink Project transforms local parks and recreation areas into community ice rinks. Once the metro area maintains consistently freezing temperatures, the rinks will open in three suburbs: West Des Moines, Ankeny and Waukee.
This year, Ankeny and Waukee will open their rinks for the first time. Last December, the Iowa Wild hosted its first Community Rink Project ribbon cutting, when it opened its location in West Des Moines. Fisher says the Iowa Wild couldn’t be more pleased with how the first year went.
“The community response was awesome,” said Fisher. “Even with a relatively warm winter last year, we were able to get about eight to 10 weeks of use out of the rink. When you think about ice availability around Des Moines, there aren’t a ton of options, especially for free skating. Through this project, we’re trying to bring that to people.”
Waukee’s rink will be located at Sugar Creek Golf Course, just a couple miles north of interstate I-80, and is free to everyone. Rink hours are similar to/dependent on park hours, or roughly sun up to sun down. Outside of these hours, the rink will only be closed if temperatures get too warm, compromising the ice and overall safety of the rink. Visitors need to just bring their own pair of skates, which can be found at certain retailers in town or online.
“Last year, we saw adults arrive at the rink around 7 a.m. to sneak in a workout before work, and we also saw both kids and adults come after school and work for some ice time,” said Fisher. “Unfortunately, skiing and snowboarding aren’t readily available here, but ice skating provides an excellent cardio option, too.”
While the public starts taking to the ice outside, the Iowa Wild will prepare for its fifth season at Wells Fargo Arena. Coming off its best season for attendance—averaging over 6,000 fans per game—the Iowa Wild expect another successful year. Fisher says the celebratory milestone anniversary also has the Iowa Wild prioritizing community involvement even more.
“We anticipate having a good season this year,” said Fisher. “But regardless of our record, we’ll keep pushing in the direction we’ve been pushing. Community efforts will continue to grow and expand.”
In addition to the Community Rink Project, the Iowa Wild sponsors many different efforts already, including several with an emphasis on education. Wild About Reading, which the National Hockey League also supports, encourages elementary and middle school students to build a passion for reading in and out of the classroom. Based on different reading goals, students have the opportunity to receive ticket vouchers to attend Iowa Wild games, along with other prizes.
Another school-based initiative is the Healthy Living Floor Hockey program, where the Iowa Wild, in partnership with other local businesses, such as Atlantic Bottling Company, have donated floor hockey games and sticks to more than 100 schools in Iowa.
Additionally, the Iowa Wild continues to offer its Wild About Education school-day game, which saw over 13,000 area students in attendance last year.
More recently, the Iowa Wild began a newer program, called the Junior Crash Course, where kids between the ages of 4-12 who have never played hockey before receive free equipment and six on-ice skating sessions to learn the game and how to play. Capped at 50 participants, registration filled up in just 10 days. Fisher says it’s through programs such as these that hockey is gaining momentum locally.
“Building the game isn’t just about being on the ice, it’s about being involved in the community,” said Fisher. “Last year, through jersey auctions, events such as Pink in the Rink, and more, we were able to generate over $350,000 in charitable donations.”
Nationally, USA Hockey reports the same positive trend in overall sport participation. A current membership statistic shows growth not only in the number of players, but of coaches and officials, as well. From 2015-2017, USA Hockey reports a total growth of roughly 15,000 participants. In Iowa, almost 4,000 players are registered through USA Hockey, which doesn’t account for those learning the game through other opportunities.
“There’s a bigger hockey market here than people think,” said Fisher. “And we want to help keep it that way.”
The Iowa Wild is also beginning its Hockey Days in Iowa this winter with the Iowa Corn Association, which features an outdoor 3-on-3 tournament. And, through the Minnesota Wild Foundation, the Iowa Wild plans to start a sled hockey league in the late fall for paraplegics. With so many opportunities for community outreach, Fisher says the Iowa Wild players love to get involved whenever possible.
“Our guys enjoy going out and meeting the local fan base,” said Fisher. “They’ll try to present at the community rinks for ribbon-cuttings, depending on weather and our game schedule. But, the players also enjoy doing surprise youth drop-ins, where a couple team members crash local youth practices.”
As a whole, Fisher credits healthy relationships with corporate partners, as well as Central Iowa residents, for fostering the growth of hockey and how the Iowa Wild is able to give back.
“We’ve grown as the game has grown, and the community as a whole has jumped on board to help us build these new programs, especially the community rinks,” said Fisher. “We can’t wait to see everyone on the ice.”