By Steve Schreck, Tribune Sports Writer
July 21, 2016
GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Country musician Aaron Tippin recently visited Great Falls for a concert fundraiser at Centene Stadium.
The event was a home run, and it might have well tipped things in the favor of the Great Falls IcePlex as far as remaining viable for the foreseeable future.
Jim Keough, the owner of the Great Falls Americans who is on the board of directors for the Great Falls Community Ice Foundation, said the rink received nearly $20,000 from that Sunday night less than two weeks ago.
“That went very well,” Keough said. “I want to thank the community, the baseball club and everyone who helped out.”
Just this Monday, a new ice plant – the old one was malfunctioning at too high of a rate – was delivered, which is good news for hockey players and figure skaters.
The money raised from the concert, Keough said, contributed greatly to the purchase of such an expensive and integral item that is essential to the sustainability of any ice rink.
“We are really excited to have that ice plant because it just makes it so much easier,” he said. “It will be more efficient and use less electricity, which eliminates some of the costs. Looking into the future, it should really work for quite a few years.”
While there are other improvements to be made, namely improving the outdated locker rooms, Keough is certain the rink is here to stay. NorthWestern Energy, he said, recently donated light poles that will help in getting lights up and running in the parking lot outside the ice rink, atop Gore Hill, which will quell concerns over safety.
Meanwhile, the Great Falls Americans’ season starts in mid-September. For the past several seasons, head coach Jeff Heimel and Co. have had to begin practice in Helena because the ice is not ready in Great Falls.
Keough predicts a similar outcome this year, estimating that the rink will open to the team in late August.
“We just have to do the best with what we have,” he said. “We might have to go to Helena for three or four days and rent ice, and that’s fine, too.”
What’s been more than fine the past several seasons is the success of the Americans, a junior hockey team that last season advanced all the way to the semifinals of their league’s national tournament.
“It’s given us so much credibility as a team, as an organization,” Keough said. “I think we are going to have another tremendous team this year.”
Despite some moments of uncertainty and a few close-to-dire calls for help, the rink, like the Americans, appears to be on an upward trajectory.
“It’s going 100 percent in the right direction as far as getting things done,” Keough said. “I think when Great Falls looks at it as a community, they have to be really proud of the Great Falls Americans but also proud of that ice arena.”
Story Courtesy: Great Falls Tribune: Great Falls rink gets roughly 20K from Tippin concert (July 21, 2016)