The Homer hockey team celebrates the Division II state championship Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, at the Curtis Mendard Sports Complex in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Tim Rockey/Frontiersman)

The Homer hockey team celebrates the Division II state championship Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, at the Curtis Mendard Sports Complex in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Tim Rockey/Frontiersman)

SoHi working to bring state hockey championship to Soldotna

The City of Soldotna agreed to waive ice and user fees for the event

The efforts of Soldotna High School’s athletic director to bring future state hockey championships to Soldotna got a boost during Wednesday’s Soldotna City Council meeting.

Council members voted unanimously to waive ice and facility use fees at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex for Division II state hockey championships as part of a bid package submitted to the Alaska School Activities Association. That bid package, prepared by SoHi Athletic Director Phillip Leck, proposes three years that the championship should be held in Soldotna.

Leck said Friday that the bid package, submitted Thursday, was prepared in partnership with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, such that they would alternate hosting the hockey championships. The bid, if approved, would put the championship in Soldotna in 2024, 2025 and 2028. The championship would be held in the Mat-Su Borough in 2026, 2027 and 2029.

Also included in the bid package, Leck said, is a sampling of what Soldotna has to offer potential visitors, from local lodging to the area’s best restaurants. Through the package, Leck said he tried to highlight everything Soldotna could do to ensure a good championship experience for visitors.

Among the benefits of holding the championship tournament in Soldotna, Leck said, is that local Division II hockey students get to skate on home ice — meaning the team wouldn’t need to travel for the event. Other Division II teams on the peninsula are Kenai Central and Homer, though Homer does not have a team this season.

Yearly activity calendars published by the Alaska School Activities Association show that no state-culminating championships have been held on the Kenai Peninsula since December 2011, when the 1A-2A-3A state wrestling championship was held at Nikiski Middle/High School.

The state hockey tournament has a history in Soldotna. The sports complex hosted all classifications in 1998 and 1999, then hosted the Class 4A tournament from 2000 to 2004. ASAA’s naming system for the size of hockey schools has since changed from classes to divisions.

If Soldotna High School’s championship bid is successful, the tournaments would be for Division II schools, or schools with fewer than 850 students in grades nine to 12.

Soldotna Parks & Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael wrote in an Oct. 19 memo to council members that the city has previously waived fees for state hockey championships held at the complex, dramatically bolstering Soldotna High School’s bid proposal.

“It is the Parks and Recreation Administration’s recommendation that the City Council waives the ice and building use fees,” Carmichael wrote. “This is in hopes this bid will be as successful as the last bid in enhancing the likelihood that Soldotna and the Central Kenai Peninsula will not only enjoy the tournament’s economic benefit but also help the peninsula teams play in front of their home fans and communities.”

The tournament, Carmichael wrote, would host eight teams for up to 12 games over the course of three days. The city currently charges $500 per paid gate game, putting the total cost of ice use for the tournament at $6,000.

It’s that amount of money the Soldotna City Council voted to waive as part of the bid package. Leck said it’s money that either SoHi or ASAA would have needed to pay. The waiver, Leck said, combined with not having to travel would save the school a lot of fundraising work.

He doesn’t just have his sights set on hockey, though.

“I would like to see more state events happen on the Kenai Peninsula,” Leck said, such as state baseball and cross-country running. Tsalteshi Trails has hosted state cross-country running events in the past.

Soldotna council members on Wednesday were overwhelmingly supportive of the proposal, which several said would generate local economic activity on top of bringing families and athletes to the city’s sports complex.

“By having good facilities and being open to use, it brings in to all the businesses in our area … good returns,” said council member Dave Carey. “ … It’s just a very good thing for our city.”

Soldotna Vice Mayor Lisa Parker agreed.

“Having five teams from outside of the Kenai Peninsula coming here, filling the hotel rooms, eating at the restaurants, seeing all the great things that we have to offer here, is a wonderful opportunity,” Parker said.

Council members pointed out that the tournaments would be held as the City of Soldotna begins work on the Soldotna field house, which would be located adjacent and connected to the sports complex. Soldotna voters earlier this month gave the city permission to incur up to $15 million in debt for the project, which is expected to take around 18 months to complete.

This season’s Division II hockey championship will be held Feb. 2 to 4 at the Patty Center Ice Arena in Fairbanks, according to ASAA’s calendar of events. Soldotna’s Wednesday city council meeting can be streamed on the city’s website at soldotna.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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