It was a chilly 15 degrees Monday night as the staff at the CoreFirst Ice Rink in Downtown’s Evergy Plaza prepared for a final evening of pond hockey employee appreciation.
Running a small ice resurfacer around the ring, event manager Dylan Tyler and his staff did what they do best: scrape away melted ice and bring out special goals as local hockey fans started showing up .
Since December, games of pond hockey, which is similar to regular hockey only with fewer players, wooden goals, no goalies, and a general rule to keep the puck on the ice, started to become routine for the Topekans who wanted eagerly a chance to grab your wands and play in the city.
Moreover:The skating rink in downtown Topeka is ringing with holiday cheer
Many of those who have come out have played for past pro teams in the city, including the Scarecrows, Tarantulas, Roadrunners, and most recently the Topeka Pilots, who folded midseason in 2020. Members of the Topeka Pilots and others Topekans still play as the Topeka Kings and Topeka Scarecrows in Kansas City, where ice rinks are more plentiful and offer leagues to keep their skills in check.
Lance Quilling and his brother, Brad Quilling, played for Topeka teams after moving to the area from southwest Kansas where the closest place to play was Denver. After playing college, Lance said he continued to play for local teams before they closed.
The downtown Topeka skating rink, which opened in November and closed this past weekend, gave them the opportunity to skate again without having to travel far to do so.
“Without some of the hockey guys in Topeka, I don’t know how (the rink) would have been possible,” Tyler said. “We need people who know how to skate to be our skate monitors, because you can’t have someone out there trying to help people.”
Getting ready to hit the ice, Valerie Jinenez, wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey, helped her friend Kylee Fine, who recently moved to Topeka, with gear and pads.
“I never played much until I met her,” Fine said. “She became a bigger part of our lives when she moved here, and we just followed her wherever we could.”
Jinenez, who is from Edmonton, Canada, was able to learn in the outdoor rinks set up through local YMCA organizations. Upstate, hockey is as popular here as basketball or soccer, so there is infrastructure and support in place to sustain the rinks year-round.
“I really hope this can help, you know, bring more awareness and attention to (ice skating and hockey),” Jinenez said. “That could be really good for the community. I think it’s a great time, you know, not just for people to want to play hockey, but also just to go out there, learn … get your families involved and all that.” .”
Although the Topeka Ice Rink is closed for the season, the sport’s popularity persists through community-supported Facebook pages like the Topeka Adult Hockey League and Shawnee County Ice Rink.
Lance said he hopes continuing the discussion will help further expand interest in creating an ice rink that would be more than a seasonal pop-up.
“That’s something to think about too,” Lance said. “You know, like (Topeka) too, we’re the largest city in this area without ice. Like Saint Joe, too, it’s about 71,000 (population) and they have a runway they can handle.”
“So I know the desire is there, we just need to get the county involved. We’ve tried and gotten some momentum, and then something else happens, and so we really hope it lasts this time.”