There are many winter days where the Iowa Great Lakes turns into a winter tundra. The wind howls and the snow flies! For some, the conditions once calm then create the perfect landscape for winter fun. But for our local hockey team, they were grateful for the completion of the indoor Lakes Ice Arena in 2013.
Boji Mammoths Head High School Coach Brett Hetland has been involved with the birth of hockey in the area since early 2000s. A former hockey player and previously coached in Minnesota and Wisconsin, he was approached by a community member in 2000 about creating a local skating and hockey rink.
The conversation led to building a goal out of 4x4’s and chicken wire for the 2001 Winter Games, which eventually led to grading the area’s first outdoor ice sheet located at Speier Park. In 2002, Hetland brought back the area’s first set of dasher boards and plexi glass from Chicago, which was later installed at the first outdoor site north of the YMCA from 2004-2005.
“Skating outdoors can be a lot of fun, but many times you also battle snow and wind, as well as challenges with ice conditions,” Hetland shared. “We began soliciting funds for an indoor arena in 2009 and would break ground in November 2012.”
Building Boji Bay Ice Arena
The process of building the Lakes Ice Arena didn’t happen overnight. Over the course of three years, Hetland and other community members visited with over nine area city councils, chamber events, and Clay, Dickinson, and Emmet County Supervisors. During this time, $500,000 funds were raised before Phase1 of construction could begin; the building structure was erected during 2013, and originally named Boji Bay Ice Arena.
“During the summer of 2013, we installed the nine miles of 1” poly pipe in the floor with the help of so many dedicated volunteers, allowing us to have our first season of refrigerated ice in winter 2013-2014,” Hetland said.
“That first season, the hockey players were so excited we didn’t have to shovel the snow off the ice before playing and it was so nice to not deal with wind chills,” he added.
The lobby and mezzanine space were built the following year, as well as the locker rooms. The bleachers came from the old Spirit Lake High School gym.
“The Mammoth locker room was a five-year project that turned out amazing,” Hetland said. “The ice arena has taken time but huge thanks to the support of our community, we have a beautiful facility.”
The newest updates will take place this upcoming summer, with an accessibility project that includes a lift to get up above the stand seating area and then a walkway area from the stand seating to the heated seating area. This space also has a larger restroom and will make the arena more handicap accessible.
The Boji Mammoth High School Hockey Program was launched in 2015, drawing players from Harris-Lake Park, Okoboji, Sibley and Spirit Lake High Schools. In 2021, the team joined the Iowa High School Hockey Alliance and was named the inaugural High School Hockey Alliance Champs in 2022.
“I consider myself blessed to be able to share the ice with these young men as we embark on a journey each year to teach life lessons through the ups and downs of a long hockey season. I really enjoy seeing the strength, maturity and development of the skaters over their high school career. Hockey is a long season, so we spend a lot of time together creating lifelong memories these guys will talk about for many years to come,” he shared. “I began coaching a Bantam B team in Hudson, WI in 1995, so you could say I have earned my gray hair!”
Beyond the high school team, there are over 120 youth ranging in age between 3-16 involved with the 2022-2023 youth Boji Blizzard teams. The ice arena is rarely empty, as there is also an active adult hockey group that plays on Wednesday nights that averages over 20 skaters.
“The facility impact is quite broad throughout the community beyond just hockey,” Hetland said. “We are always looking for ways to expand rink usage. I still visit open skate on occasion and get emotional seeing what we worked so hard to build in what has now become a hub for winter activity.”
New this year is a beginner adult hockey group that practices on Sunday evenings. Early in the season, the arena hosts a youth and adult learn-to-skate program, and the Lakes Area Hockey Association hosts countless private rentals, school groups and businesses. They have also discussed curling and looking for interested people to take the lead on a popular ice activity.
“We are always looking for ways to share the many benefits of playing hockey throughout the Iowa Great Lakes and beyond,” he said. “We have created zero fee entry for first year skaters at younger levels, as well as equipment use programs to limit cost from being a factor. If we can get youngsters out to see the speed of a bantam or high school game, I’m certain they will be hooked. There truly is nothing that moves at this speed. Novice spectators do not get bored at hockey games!”
The Lakes Area Hockey Association has worked to expand tournaments at each youth level throughout the winter months, equating to six mini winter games and bringing guests into the community to fill hotels and restaurants.
“Not only is the rink a community enhancement, it also provides a huge economic boost by hosting these tournaments and games throughout the winter months,” Hetland said. “Our facility and program are still an infant in comparison to others we play, but as we age, alumni stick around and raise families, the hockey culture will continue to grow.”
By an often-filled parking lot, the Lakes Ice Arena is a must-visit during the long winter months. Whether you enjoy an open skate or stop to cheer on local athletes, the vision birthed twenty years has created a hub of excitement and activity for people of all ages.
Visit lakesareahockey.com or the Facebook pages of Lakes Ice Arena for up-to-date information, as well as follow the Boji Mammoth Hockey season.