By Andy Eide
In a desire to grow the sport of hockey for local youths and adults, one of the largest hockey associations in the Seattle area is helping eliminate the barrier of limited ice availability with a new arena on Snoqualmie Ridge.
Sno-King Amateur Hockey Association announced Wednesday morning that it has finalized plans to open a two-sheet facility in Snoqualmie, set to open for business in the summer of 2020. The two rinks will feature NHL-sized sheets of ice and will allow the association to add over 6,500 hours of ice time for youth hockey, figure skating, and adult hockey leagues.
The search for more ice has been on the Sno-King agenda for quite a while and the new Snoqualmie arena is the result of an exhaustive search of Eastside communities from Woodinville to Renton. Sno-King worked with the City of Snoqualmie and local developer Jeff Razwick, and his family, who owns the land that the arena will sit on.
“The City of Snoqualmie has been a great partner in getting us to the point where it’s going to be built,” Sno-King executive director Dave Blanchard said. “We’re lucky to have the partnership with our future landlord as well. He’s been a great help to us. We met him through searching at Snoqualmie, he owns land there, and has a big heart to help the Snoqualmie community and took an appreciation with what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re a youth development organization and he’s very into helping us accomplish our goals.”
Costs of the facility will be covered through a mixture of fundraising efforts from Sno-King along with corporate sponsorship. Construction on the 75,500 square-foot arena will begin later this summer and will feature 12 locker rooms, a pro shop, a dry-land work out facility as well as a mezzanine for seating.
Currently, Sno-King has two full sheets and a three-quarters sized rink that it utilizes between its Kirkland location and a facility in Renton. The new arena will double capacity and comes at a time where the Seattle region is gearing up for the arrival of an NHL expansion team.
Demand for the sport will certainly grow upon its arrival and the new arena on the Eastside, along with the three-sheet facility that NHL Seattle is building, should allow for expansion of the local hockey community. Blanchard says that the search for more ice began before the NHL team was awarded but its arrival has created a sense of urgency.
“I think they’re going to create more demand and we’re ready to respond to that,” he added. “We’re a non-profit and part of our mission is to make sure that we provide access to hockey for youth and other programs in the area… NHL Seattle has been really supportive of what we’re trying to do. They’re obviously into growing the game. We’ve been in talks with them, letting them know what we’re doing and have been part of the dialogue.”
NHL Seattle isn’t directly involved in the new Snoqualmie rinks, but its creation is in line with the message that CEO Tod Leiweke has been preaching since arriving in Seattle.
“NHL Seattle is thrilled to see Sno-King expanding into Snoqualmie,” Leiweke said via a press release on Wednesday. “The future arrival of the NHL into our area is already generating increased interest in ice hockey and figure skating programs on a regional level, and we are pleased to see local partners like Sno-King rising to meet this demand.”
Sno-King is the largest youth hockey association in the state and has 600 youths playing on competitive teams with another 600 involved in its Learn to Play program.
Blanchard says that this new project will allow them to add up to 1,600 more youth participants and 1,000 adult players – Sno-King currently serves 750 adults in recreational leagues.
USA Hockey released its annual membership numbers earlier this week and the State of Washington saw a small uptick in hockey participation – a 1.8-percent increase with 182 new players added. Nevada, with the success of the Vegas Golden Knights, had the nation’s highest percentage growth of 61.7-percent while California had the most new players (1,006) lace up the skates.
The growth in Vegas has led to the Golden Knights building a new two-sheet facility in nearby Henderson to go along with the team’s current practice facility.
Washington started with a larger player pool than Nevada so its unlikely to see the same percentage jump locally when the NHL arrives, but the potential of 2,600 more players is a substantial increase.
“It will take time,” Blanchard said. “It takes time for kids to learn how to play and learn how to skate and reach a level where they can be in competition. We’re really hopeful that a lot of people will join our Learn to Skate programs. We have great Learn to Skate programs.”
With more ice comes more players and better competition.
Local top players often face the dilemma of having to leave the region at some point for higher competition, in order to pursue Major Junior or NCAA opportunities. Two recent examples of this are Bonney Lake’s Dylan Gambrell of the San Jose Sharks as well as Seattle Thunderbirds rookie Mekai Sanders, who is from Gig Harbor but played the past two seasons in Detroit.
That could start to change.
“Over time, I think, it will become more popular to play hockey,” Blanchard said. “So, I think there will be a lot more top athletes that join in and become part of it. The NHL will provide a lot of programs and impetus for people to develop their skills. We already do that, we have great coaches at our facilities. We really feel that anybody who is in our program can raise to whatever level their natural talents can take them…certainly when we add five new sheets to the area there’s going to be opportunity for growth and for us to play more games locally against quality talent.”
Blanchard and Sno-King are excited for their new facility. It will help them serve the youth on the Eastside as well as grow the number of hockey players in the region.
It will also allow Sno-King to develop an all-girls ice hockey program, something Blanchard says they are eager to do, as well as offer more adult leagues and figure skating programs. It’s the first step in what many in the hockey community hope will be a steady increase in the sport.
“We think that these new sheets of ice will be able to serve the Eastside for some time in the future,” Blanchard said. “We all want to make sure that hockey grows fast but we also want to be prudent about it.”
The new arena will be located at 35300 SE Douglas Street in Snoqualmie Ridge and for more information visit the Sno-King Amateur Hockey Association.