Sydney Ice Arena open for business

The Sydney Ice Arena. Photo: Will Brodie
The Sydney Ice Arena. Photo: Will Brodie

Go to the Sydney Ice Arena. Go there to skate with your friends, to watch the Sydney Bears compete in the Australian Ice Hockey League. To watch the upcoming private International Cup tournament run by the rink, which may help uncover future AIHL imports. Anything good for the rink is good for the team. Support this great facility, the club is right behind it, and the Sydney Ice Arena supports the Bears.

That is the message the Bears want in the public sphere. The SIA site is going to be redeveloped as a retail and housing complex, by its owner the Hillsong Church, but that might not happen for two to four years. Meanwhile, it remains the home of Sydney’s oldest AIHL team, and a great place to watch the best hockey in Australia. It is the country's most attractive rink and has ample, comfortable seating, a fine, expansive ice surface, and a pending liquor licence, which would make the upstairs facilities a fine place to socialise during and after a game.

To the AIHL fan, revelling in watching the best league hockey played in this country’s history, it is easy to forget that a rink manager has other priorities apart from the national league. Making money from an ice rink is a tough task even in northern hemisphere climes, where people take ice sports for granted, the way we do our football codes. Even the International Ice Hockey Federation’s arena manual, designed to facilitate the building of ice rinks, points out the high proportion of ice time that needs to be devoted to lucrative public skating, in order for rinks to make a profit.

Then there are all the other ice sports that demand ice times: speed skating, figure skating, junior hockey. Some venues have to cover the ice and cater for other public events, such as concerts, to make a dollar. As a result, smaller rinks in hockey-keen areas still give ice time to hockey late at night, when public skating numbers are down.

Opening a successful rink requires significant initial investment, sustaining it requires innovative marketing prowess, and the ongoing costs in making and maintaining ice are substantial. Even the most hockey-mad rink manager must juggle many competing uses in order to keep the rink viable. Each generation of children needs to be educated as to the fun to be enjoyed on the ice. In Sydney, competition for the leisure and entertainment dollar is so fierce that it includes churches who have turned their services into showbiz extravaganzas.

Amateur clubs and rink managers reach compromises in order to benefit both parties and keep hockey featuring on the best rinks.

The medium-term future for the Bears may be a little uncertain, given the redevelopment does not feature an ice rink. The club is urging the church and local council to revisit their development proposal to include a rink.

However, if this does not occur, the AIHL foundation club has a core of committed fans, and the passionate expertise of stalwarts such as coach Vlad Rubes and general manager Wayne Hellyer. They can survive the challenge of another move.

Meanwhile, they are playing some great hockey - they start the May 24 weekend round of games third in the standings - at a great facility. Go to the Sydney Ice Arena and watch the action. Once you see it, you will want to come back - and you will be able to do so for some time yet.

This story Sydney Ice Arena open for business first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.