WINSLOW — The Sukee Arena and Events Center will not open this winter because of ice-making equipment failure, leaving high school and youth hockey teams scrambling to find ice time as the dawn of a new season approaches.

Sukee Arena manager Annette Marin, the daughter of building owner Doug Sukeforth, said problems with the compression system used to make and refrigerate the ice in the building — which opened to the public in 1985 — are too costly to fix.

“We made the decision to not be opening for the season,” Marin said.

The arena planned to open Oct.15 for what would have been its 31st year of operation. A banner still hung over the facility’s entrance this week, celebrating the 30th anniversary season that was completed last March.

Marin said problems were discovered earlier last month when they prepared to put ice down for the season.

“We went to start the compressors up, the normal routine, to get things cold and make the ice,” she said. “The compressors never got it cold enough. We couldn’t get down to temperature to make ice.


“It’s been a month of just getting numbers together, of getting estimates for what it would cost to repair (the system).”

Sukeforth, of China, did not return several calls over three days to his home.

The building’s abrupt closing will have a profound effect on its hockey tenants, from youth to the high school level.

Girls hockey teams across the state began practicing Monday. The Winslow/Gardiner girls co-operative team secured ice time at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell, where it held its first practice Wednesday.

“We’re fortunate right now that we’re not competing with anyone else for ice time,” Winslow/Gardiner girls head coach Chris Downing said.

Boys teams will hit the ice Monday, leaving Messalonskee, the Lawrence/Skowhegan co-op and Winslow searching for ice time.


Along with the Ice Vault, Colby and Kents Hill are making their facilities — Alfond Rink and Bonnefond Ice Arena, respectively — available to displaced teams.

“The first thing we’ve tried to do is be as equitable as we can for all the high school teams, and that becomes a bit challenging,” said Colby men’s hockey coach Blaise MacDonald, who oversees scheduling at Alfond Rink. “We’ve had Waterville in here for years, but we want to do our best for all the other teams, both boys and girls.”

Winslow High School athletic director Jim Bourgoin said Colby has made early morning hours available, beginning at 5 a.m., although that presents a few logistical problems for the team. For example, he said, it would mean asking girls from Gardiner to head out at 3:30 a.m. on weekday mornings in order to make it to practices on time.

“The building is 33 years old, and we’ve had a good relationship with them and we’re thankful for all they’ve done,” Bourgoin said. “But this could have been a really scary situation for everybody.”

“We will survive,” Downing added. “We’ll persevere. We will find ice time somewhere.”

Sukee’s closing will have a financial effect on schools as well, Bourgoin said. For example, he said, the school did not budget for transportation costs to Hallowell. Costs for ice time at other facilities, where it differs, also could become a concern later.


Ice Vault general manager Bill Boardman said efforts are underway with Colby and Kents Hill to coordinate ice time.

“We’ve had a good, coordinated effort between Kents Hill, us and Colby College,” Boardman said. “We’ve already had a couple of meetings where we’ve sat down and tried to plan everything so everybody gets what they need.”

Like Colby, Boardman said that the Ice Vault has tried to free up more time, especially in the early morning hours during the week. Evening hours and weekend daytime hours are typically reserved for youth programs.

“Unfortunately, this is not a gym at a high school,” Boardman said. “There are a lot of different user groups at rinks.

“The goal of all three rinks is to try and make this work for everybody where it fits into our scheduling, while not disrupting the entire state of Maine,” Boardman added. “Someone’s probably going to have to do more early morning practices than they might like, and there will probably be some sharing of ice time and moving things around.”

Athletic directors from Winslow, Waterville, Messalonskee, Lawrence and Skowhegan are planning to meet Monday morning with rink managers to try to finalize practice and game schedules.


“We’re trying to free up some Wednesday time,” MacDonald said. “Myself and the women’s coach, Holley Tyng, we’ve compacted our practice times to accommodate more time for high school hockey on Wednesday nights. That’s going to be a positive that we’ve not had before.”

This is not the first time that hockey and skating organizations in central Maine have been affected by the loss of a facility. The Kennebec Ice Arena — the site of what is now the Ice Vault — was lost for a full year when its roof collapsed in March 2011.

Boardman believes that experience has helped make people more understanding in the wake of Sukee Arena closing for the foreseeable future.

“Our hockey community been very flexible in working through this and working with those other groups,” Boardman said. “Many of them went through that with our facility.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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