With time winding down before the puck drop for Orillia's annual Jim Wilson Chevrolet Buick GMC Winter Classic hockey tournament, city staff are working hard to get the ice pads at Rotary Place back in shape.
The annual tournament brings dozens of minor hockey teams to Orillia, with 60 teams – ranging in age from under-10 to under-18 – attending in 2021.
Issues with a heat exchanger caused the city to shut down the two ice pads on Oct. 7, creating headaches for numerous hockey and figure skating clubs as they all had to make do with the single-pad Brian Orser arena while city staff worked to address the issues at Rotary Place.
City staff have since fixed the issue with the heat exchanger, but are now tasked with the arduous and time-consuming process of ice making.
Winter Classic tournament organizer Mike Borrelli said he is optimistic the tournament will go forward, but the uncertainty surrounding next week has caused a dozen teams to drop out of the tournament.
“We are planning to run the Jim Wilson Classic next weekend,” he told OrilliaMatters. “It's been very stressful. Not only for us, but the teams … we had, probably, 12 teams, once they heard our ice went down, either bailed on us or found other tournaments to go to.”
The loss of 12 teams brings the 2022 roster down to 40 teams, Borrelli said, roughly half the number of participants in the years predating COVID-19. He said Orillia will once again be represented in all age divisions at the tourney.
He said he trusts the city is working its hardest to get the rink operational in time, and that a contingency plan is in the works.
“We know Parks and Rec are on our side,” he said. “We've had enough downtime, not only … because of COVID, but the broken (heat exchanger), and we know that people that are in charge are working their hardest to try to get us back on the ice.”
Borrelli said the tournament brings a lot of revenue to the city, local restaurants, and hotels every year, and he expects a number of local teams to do quite well in their divisions.
“For as long as I've been running it, over 10 years for sure … it's brought a lot of people to Orillia. It's (been) nothing but positive," he said.
“There's a lot of revenue coming to the City of Orillia next weekend, and we’d hate to lose that. We've already had a couple of down years.”
Work to reinstate one of Rotary Place’s ice pads began on Monday, city officials said, with work on the second beginning today.
“Provided there are no unforeseen issues with the ice preparation, we are working diligently to meet the tournament date weekend,” said Melissa Gowanlock, the city’s manager of communications. “The heat exchanger has been repaired.”
Gowanlock said the heat exchanger issues arose in spite of regular maintenance programs.
“The City of Orillia has regular maintenance programs in place for all of our ice facilities and works with professional refrigeration contractors on a regular basis to perform preventative maintenance and upkeep of our facilities,” Gowanlock said. “This type of failure was not expected and would have been difficult to predict.”
Replacing ice pads is a lengthy process, Gowanlock said.
A base layer is built using a sprayer that creates layers of 1/64 inch ice, which need to be thin to ensure they freeze correctly, she said.
“Once we have a good base, it is then sealed with at least six coats of white paint. This is followed by the installation of logos and painting of lines,” Gowanlock said. “Once this is complete then it is a matter of building up the layers of ice using the ice resurfacer.
“The ice must be flooded over and over to create the proper ice thickness and density. It then needs to be levelled. Typically, the whole process takes 7 to 10 days at Rotary Place," she explained.
Gowanlock said the parts for the heat exchanger were sourced as quickly as possible, and city staff are working in multiple shifts to ensure the arena's ice is operational.
"This is the first time we are putting in both surfaces at the same time, so it’s a bit longer of a process. We are making good progress so far and are working with multiple shifts to expedite the process," Gowanlock explained.
“These components were sourced as timely as possible, assembled off-site and then re-built, tested and verified on-site before the overall ice plant and refrigeration system could be turned back on.”