HHA marks rink’s 10th annivesary

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Homer’s Kevin Bell Arena. That milestone will be celebrated Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. It will be a day packed with skating, a hockey skills competition, a barbecue, figure skating performances and even a referee contest.

“We usually have an event called Kevin Bell Day and it’s traditionally one of the last days we have the ice in. It’s just a celebration of the rink and we have a free public skate and all the different user groups have an opportunity to have one last deal before we pull the plug and the ice melts,” said Homer Hockey Association board president Shelly Laukitis. “This year, we wanted to notch it up a lot to celebrate 10 years of the rink in existence.”

Kevin Bell, a beloved Homer hockey coach and the arena’s namesake, is recognized as a key component in making the ice rink come to fruition, said Ken Satre, who was HHA president during the 2006 Arctic Winter Games when the arena was built.

“When many were convinced we could not make it happen, Kevin made it happen. He never wavered,” Satre said.

Bell was passionate about all aspects of hockey, Satre said. He helped kids learn to skate, get equipment, coached teams, recruited volunteers and involved as many kids as possible, all while having fun. Many people believe that Bell was the main force behind hockey in Homer.

“Even before Kevin died of brain cancer in 2008, most people involved in skating and the construction of the rink believed that it was logical and fitting that the ice rink would be named after him. A few months after his passing, the HHA board made it official,” Satre said. “Both Kevin and the rink have provided amazing opportunities for people in this community and we will celebrate both on April 9, 2016.”

Desire to build an ice rink in Homer turned into necessity when several warm winters in the early 2000s made it impossible to maintain ice at the old rink behind the middle school, Satre said.

“It seemed clear that without an indoor rink, hockey in Homer would be doomed,” Satre said. “While many of us could not envision a path forward, Kevin Bell never wavered in his belief that it could happen. It was that inspiration that led Harry Rasmussen, then president of the HHA board to write a Tier I grant that would provide the equipment needed to operate a rink.”

The arena opened on April 2, 2005, and then housed the 2006 Arctic Winter Games the following March. Realizing the community’s dream of an arena took the efforts of the Homer Hockey Association over the course of four years. Grants from the Kenai Peninsula 2006 Arctic Winter Games, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Murdock Charitable Trust and others in the community provided funding for the project. During the course of the project, the city of Homer loaned the HHA a grant writer to work with the Arctic Winter Games to provide additional funds needed to complete the rink.

The beginning was fraught with complication, starting with a change of locations in 2004 after discovering the initial site off Lake Street was too unstable and expensive to build on. Though the first groundbreaking failed, a deal with the English Bay Corporation provided HHA with the site on the Homer Spit at a subsidized rent rate for the first 10 years. Volunteers offered hours of construction work for free, further lowering the cost of building. 

During the first year, the commitment of the Homer community kept the rink alive. In addition to Bell, the many volunteers, support of local businesses and the people on the HHA board, rink manager Rick Pitta played a large part in the rink’s formative years.

“It is hard to overstate the dedication and perseverance Mr. Pitta brought to the position,” Satre said. “His willingness to work 70-80 or even 90 hours a week was unflinching. His commitment to learning about every aspect necessary to keep the rink running effectively was critical.”

Through the years, the growth of Kevin Bell Arena exceeded expectations of the HHA, Satre said. In addition to youth hockey teams, activities such as adult hockey, public skating, a learn to skate program, curling, broomball and figure skating have taken up residence at the rink. 

“The primary goal that was behind the efforts to have an indoor ice rink in Homer was so we could grow the Homer Hockey Association youth hockey program along with the Homer High School hockey program. For these programs to be sustainable, it was essential to have eight months of dependable indoor ice,” Satre said. “The level of involvement in youth hockey and high school hockey (has) expanded significantly. One exciting outcome was the tremendous participation of skaters from the Russian communities.” 

Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.

Kevin Bell Arena 

10th Anniversary Celebration

10 a.m.: Warm-up run, skate, two cross ice set up.

10:45 a.m.: Skills competition sign up

11 a.m.: Microbells demo

11:45 a.m.: Skills competition begins

12:15 p.m.: Barbecue begins

1 p.m.: WeSkate Demo – Figure skating performance

1:30 p.m.: Referee contest

2 p.m.: Public invited to get on the ice

2:45 p.m.: Community skate events