BLOOMINGTON — With the Grossinger Motors Arena ice rink set to receive needed upgrades, the Central Illinois Flying Aces have relocated training camp to Adrian College in Michigan and canceled Friday’s preseason home game against the Chicago Steel.
“The kids can focus just on hockey; there’s no outside distractions or anything on the periphery for them,” said first-year coach Mike Watt. “That’s the same for the staff. Once we get to the rink, we kind of know where everybody is and what everybody’s supposed to be doing.”
The original dasher boards and protective glass around the rink have deteriorated over the 11 years since the city-owned venue now managed by VenuWorks opened. Last month, the City Council approved spending $187,871 to install a new dasher boards system.
“Are they playable right now? They’re playable. Are they the best for our players? We don’t feel they’d be the best and safest for our players at this time,” said Flying Aces chief operating officer Brendan Kelly.
“They’re useable, but we felt it was best to take the opportunity, while it’s being addressed, to move our camp off premise and get that resolved so that by the time we get back we’ll be ready to take the ice in a refreshed building.”
The new boards will be manufactured by Becker Arena Products. Lynn Cannon, VenuWors' executive director of the area, said Becker will be viewing the facility in the next few weeks and that the upgrades are “still a work in progress.”
“We’re all in the same boat as far as trying to make things better,” said Cannon, anticipating the work should be done by late November or early December. “We’re just trying to make the schedule work so everybody can get what they need. Hopefully, it won't reflect any interruption.”
Kelly said the team looked at an assessment report on the current boards and made its judgment based on what’s best for the players, but he stopped short of calling the conditions unsafe.
“I won’t say that, but we feel this is more a move on our behalf to give our players the best possible situations for training camp and allow repairs and remedies to be addressed without being in the way,” he said.
“Is it the best for our standards and league standards? Not exactly.”
Kelly said the building, which is operated by VenuWorks, also will receive additional short-term repairs, while the team is working on upgrading the locker room. He said the existing boards were not built to be repeatedly removed and reassembled to accommodate concerts and other events.
“The current boards system is the original structure and the usage is kind of beyond what would be considered a reasonable time span,” he said. “The boards in place now are intended to be more of a permanent structure, typical of a community hockey rink. … They’ve deteriorated in condition over that time, from the glass to the stanchions to the boards.”
Kelly has not been given a timetable for when the work will be done and no decision has been made on the first two regular-season home games, scheduled for Oct. 13-14 against Cedar Rapids.
“We know they’re expediting the process to get the boards and glass fully replaced and installed as soon as possible so we can prepare for our season opener,” he said. “Right now, we’re on target to commence on the 13th.”
Kelly said any possible changes to the regular-season schedule most likely would be swapping home dates with the opposing teams.
“It’s something that we’ve looked at all avenues if that’s necessary. We haven’t reached that point,” he said. “Hopefully we can get everything corrected in a reasonable time.
“If there is any impact, it will be minimal.”
The team did not sell any tickets to the preseason game and it was not included in any season-ticket packages. In regard to team preparation, Watt said the lost contest may actually become a benefit.
“I think it’s actually better, to be quite honest,” he said. “We get to play two intrasquad games (at Adrian) and do our evaluations. It’s better for us in terms of the prep because we can get them on the ice and put them in a game setting twice.”
The Flying Aces still will have five preseason games, with a Saturday game at Muskegon and a Sept. 23 game at Chicago followed by three matchups in the USHL Fall Classic, held Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in suburban Pittsburgh. Central Illinois opens the regular season season Oct. 7 at Youngstown.