Homer Alaska - Sports

Story last updated at 6:12 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Playin' on ice

Kevin Bell Arena gets new manager; season full of skating

By Angelina Skowronski
For the Homer News


Photo by Angelina Skowronski

Kevin Bell Arena's new manager, Brad Needham, poses by the rink's Zamboni. "It's probably the best part of my job," says Needham of getting to drive the machine.

Anyone can catch Kevin Bell Arena's new rink manager, Brad Needham, at any given day putting in long hours around the complex, whether it is driving the Zamboni, coordinating the rink schedule or doing any one of the many maintenance projects.

But Fridays between 2:45 and 3:45 p.m., you can catch Needham doing something a little unordinary from traditional rink managers.

Learning how to skate.

"This job is unlike anything I have done before," Needham said while sitting next to the only space heater in his rink office. "I don't even know how to skate, but I am learning."

Since starting his position at the rink in September, Needham has been working around the clock to get the ice and the building ready for the hockey season.

"I've been putting in a lot of hours. It seems like there is more work than there is time to do it all," said Needham. "With all this preparation for the hockey season, I'm excited to get into the full swing of it."

Needham's highlight of the job?

It's none other than the envy of every boy and girl anxiously awaiting to make the first lines on the fresh ice: driving the Zamboni.

"It's probably the best part of my job. Only in order to drive it, I have to figure this thing out," Needham said, sifting through the pages of a 4-inch thick binder titled "Zamboni 552 Maintenance Manual."

Homer's Zamboni 552 is one of only two electric-powered Zambonis operating in the state of Alaska.

"When I call the customer service line and tell them it's a 552, the person on the other end kind of gets excited about it," said Needham.

Born and raised in Raleigh, N.C., Needham received his bachelor's degree in mechanical cngineering from North Carolina State University. He came to Homer for the first time five years ago to attend a friend's wedding.

He describes it as, "after the wedding I basically went back to Raleigh, sold everything I had and moved to Homer."

Needham has worked his way though the town: server at Wasabi's, doorman at Alibi's and Alice's, coffee shop cleaner at K-Bay, and fish pitcher at Auction Block. His most recent job was as a mechanical engineer at Kachemak Research Development where he traveled to U.S. military bases to install vehicle inspection systems.

Needham is able to apply his previous experiences to his new rink manager job.

"I was hired because of my management background. There is a lot of people management and time management invested in this job," said Needham.

Not to mention his mechanical engineering skills must help when deciphering the odyssey of a Zamboni manual.

Women's and Co-ed Hockey

The hardening of winter's ice means another year of women in padding. This year, 45 women have come together all in the name of diva hockey.

"We are all about having fun and getting a good exercise," said group manager Ingrid Harrald. "It's really all about community building as opposed to competition."

The women currently have three teams: beginner, intermediate and advanced. They play against the Soldotna women's team once a month, trading venues each time, and a select few will travel to Palmer in December for the "C" Cup tournament bringing teams in from all over the state.

In January, the women will host the Winter Jamboree catering to women's hockey teams from the north and the rest of the Kenai Peninsula.

"At the Jamboree we mix up the teams so you are playing with a bunch of new people," said Harrald. "It's a great way to meet other women from out of town."

No diva team would be complete without the proud sponsorship of the Salty Dawg, Beluga Lake Lodge and Homer's Jeans.

The Diva Challenge, held Saturday, Nov. 26 at the Karen Hornaday Park, is a fundraiser to help the women generate funds to cover ice time and scholarship funds.

Geared toward fun for the entire family, there will be a kid race at 10 a.m. and an adult race at 11 a.m. filled with three-legged scrambles, a balloon toss and log rolls.

The entry fee of $15 includes lunch. Baked goods and beer will be sold separately, and door prizes donated from various Homer establishments will be raffled.

A new calendar addition to the many ice rink events this year is co-ed hockey. Organized by Harrald after realizing the difference between the diva friendly league and the men's competitive league, the new co-ed league is an effort to offer a comfortable hockey environment for every type and style.

"We formed the co-ed league as a place for some of the advanced women to have a challenge, and as a good way for men to get involved who don't want to start off right away in the men's league which tends to be more competitive."

The co-ed league is comprised of four teams which meet Saturday evenings for games. Drop-ins are welcomed during Friday practices at 7 p.m. For more information go to www.homerhockey.org

The Divas practice at 6:30 p.m. Sundays, 7:45 p.m. Mondays and 8 p.m. Thursdays. Drop-ins welcomed Mondays for $5 for the first month. Gear is available to borrow and scholarships are available to cover ice time. No ice experience necessary. For more information go to www.divashockey.org.

Men's Hockey

The men's hockey team is not as organized as the divas.

But that is by design, says manager Vaughan Duggar.

"Two years ago we were a bigger team with sponsors and jerseys, now we're just a small group of men who still love to play hockey. We call it laid back," said Duggar.

Currently the men's league sees 15-20 skaters on the ice. The jersey color you walk in with determines what team you play with.

"We divide teams based on color, dark jerseys versus light jerseys," said Duggar.

In the spring, the league will host the Ash Cup, named after the eruption of Mount Redoubt in 2009.

"We didn't want to cancel the tournament so we held it and barbequed outside in the ash," said Duggar.

In the past, the Ash Cup has brought in teams from Anchorage, Soldotna and Kodiak to name a few.

Even with attendance lower than years past, the men's league continues to stay alive.

Duggar said, "It's hard to come home at eleven at night with your adrenaline rushing, but we love it and enjoy it."

The men's league meets from 9:15-10:15 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Drop-in fees are $15 a night with membership available. All skill levels are welcomed. For more information go to www.homerhockey.org.