Last updated: February 20. 2013 2:29AM - 493 Views

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In the fall of 2011, the floodwaters ravaged the Riverside Park Ice Rink in Tunkhannock.

Built on the banks of the Susquehanna River, the flood carried away sheds used as locker rooms, the boards that contained the outdoor rink and the liner and plywood that made up the subsurface below the ice.

We lost everything, rink manager Sam Elias said.

Almost everything.

While the flood carried away the rink itself and several buildings, it left behind one thing: hope.

Undeterred, Elias and countless volunteers and businesses began the rebuilding process. The rink was rebuilt, sheds reconstructed and skates and other equipment poured in via donations.

We basically had to start over, Elias said.

One of the groups that helped get the rink back in operation was the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The team raised $1,200 through a jersey raffle that was used to rebuild the shed that housed skates and other equipment for the public to use. The team also joined forces with its fans and the Wilkes-Barre Jr. Penguins youth hockey club to collect used skates and other equipment to replace what was lost.

Brian Coe, vice president of operations for the Penguins, said the reason behind the organization's willingness to help stemmed from a visit they made to the rink before the floodwaters hit.

Jeff Barrett (Penguins CEO), myself and (defenseman) Alex Grant went there to see it in January 2011, and were very impressed with the work that the community puts into it. The rink has that old-time hockey feel and it's a true community gathering place with kids skating, drinking hot chocolate and warming up around the fire pit, Coe said. When we heard about the flood, we felt we needed to step in and help out.

Today, the outdoor rink is back up and running, beholden only to the weather. In operation since 1996, the Tunkhannock rink is open to anybody free of charge, and equipment such as skates and sticks are loaned out at no cost.

Elias, who resides in Tunkhannock, manages the rink with the help of numerous youth hockey players and community members who volunteer their time. Per tradition, the rink is constructed each year on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving and, weather-permitting, stays open into late February.

We're fortunate that we have a bunch of young people that really take to it, Elias said. We give them cordless drills and materials and they put it up. They're just happy to have ice.

Obtaining ice may be the hardest part of constructing the rink. Water needs to be pumped in from a source 300 yards away and the ice sheet has to be meticulously maintained for several days after the cold temperatures hit to create a skating surface.

It's not easy to make consistent ice. The freeze-thaw cycle makes it tough, Elias said.

That means volunteers sometimes have to chop through a new ice sheet and pump water up from the bottom to flood the surface, or apply thin layers of ice by misting water over the surface.

The goal is a minimum of five inches of ice that will support the weight of anyone that uses it.

But there is more to the Tunkhannock rink than just a sheet of ice. There are the other elements that create the atmosphere of outdoor hockey.

Firewood is available for campfires or roasting hot dogs, there is hot water to make vats of hot chocolate, lights so the games can carry into the night and a heated skate shed that offers a temporary escape from the biting cold.

It really takes you back to a simpler time, Elias said. You get onto the ice and pass the puck with friends while overlooking the mountains and the river. It's really an enjoyable way to spend a winter afternoon.

A different challenge

As one of the Zamboni drivers at Mohegan Sun Arena, Tom Mayka has a pretty good idea of what it takes to make good ice.

That's why Mayka, who is also a member of the Wright Township Recreation Board, was charged with running the outdoor ice rink in the township park in Mountain Top.

But when it comes to making ice outdoors versus a controlled setting like inside the arena, Mayka found out it's a whole different ballgame.

There's challenges with it, he said. It's such a weather-dependent thing. If we lived in Minnesota it wouldn't be so tough to do this.

Fluctuating winter temperatures and elements such as rain and snow make running the outdoor rink difficult at times. Last year the unseasonably warm winter only allowed for one day of ice on the rink.

This year, Mayka said, they had a few days of ice before the recent warm temperatures wiped it out.

During the day, that sun can get intense. When it thaws the ice, it thaws it from the bottom, Mayka said.

What he'd like to see is several days of consistent temperatures at or below the freezing mark. When that happens, Mayka will head to the rink at night, when temperatures are coldest, to make an ice sheet that is two-inches thick.

But even then there are a new set of challenges.

You're out there late at night in the bitter cold, spraying water and battling frozen hoses, Mayka said. There's a lot of time and effort that goes into it.

And plenty of rewards.

Mayka and others are in the process of starting the Mountain Top Area Hockey League, which will form teams to utilize the ice after the cold temperatures hit. During the warmer months the rink, with its concrete base, is used by a roller hockey league, he said, so doing the same thing with ice will extend the facility's use throughout the year.

But the rink, which was built three years ago, isn't just for hockey.

Anybody who simply wants to skate is welcome to hit the ice, Mayka said.

And simply seeing the rink used is the biggest reward of all, Mayka said.

When we did have ice and there were people using it, that was really nice to see, he said. There's a lot of demand in Mountain Top and the surrounding areas for this, and we have high hopes for it.

More info

For more information on the Tunkhannock ice rink, visit www.tunkicerink.com.

For information on the ice rink in Wright Township Municipal Park, visit the Mountain Top Area Hockey League facebook page.

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