|(Credit: Chaparral Ice)|
The man behind that plan is Ryan Raya. In January, he completed the purchase of the rink from the Collins family and put into motion numerous plans to grow the game and all of the programs at "Chap".
"I never expected to be here for hockey. When I came for a job interview [for another local company], I also interviewed to be a coach. Over the three years, I learned the story of Chaparral."
That story was a tough one and familiar to anyone in the local community. As recently as 2010, Chaparral Ice was a multi-rink facility, operating three sheets across two locations in Austin. Poor management, fines from the city and the economic climate forced the closure and sale of the facility on I-35, closing two of the three public rinks in Austin.
"The hockey community shrunk, having three programs on one sheet of ice, operating from 5am to midinight. After the other rink closed, [ownership] walked away and left Angie with the instructions, 'Just don’t close the doors. Don’t loose too much money.'
"So they operated at a baseline level, but the hockey community wanted to grow. I’ve had years outside knowing how organizations run, so I approached the family with an unsolicited offer to buy the rink."
Raya grew up in the Northeast and has been coaching since high school. He grew up "being on the ice seven days a week." After a move to Virginia, Raya got involved in running multiple programs at rinks in the area. When he moved to Texas, he didn't expect to be involved in hockey but quickly got wrapped up in coaching at Chaparral.
Raya's improvements are both small and massive. Simple things like upgrading the rink's internet, point of sale and website will make big differences for regular visitors. Upgrades to add figure skating locker rooms, a warm room for spectators, real locker rooms with dedicated showers, public restroom improvements and stands with infrared heaters will begin this summer and cost $600,000. Much to the delight of adult league players, the rink will also add a bar and concession stand.
"It’s not about sustaining any more. It’s about growing."
Chaparral is partnering with the UT men's hockey team to create a dedicated locker room for their team, including individual locker stall similar to what you would see in an AHL or NHL locker room. Projectors and white boards will be added to coaching rooms to increase educational opportunities for players. Their continuing partnership with the Texas Stars has them in talks to create an off-site pro shop for the Stars at the rink.
Even with all this work for the traditional ice sports of figure skating and youth and adult hockey, Raya still views public skate as a key part of what Chaparral does.
"Your gateway to new participants is public skate. The gateway in a non-traditional market is that 'Hey, let’s do something different' thought."
Rumours flew, of course, after the purchase of the ever-present possibility of more ice coming in Austin.
"I’m going to leave the rumours as rumors for now. There’s a serious likelihood something gets started in the next calendar year."
Raya noted that success for hockey in non-traditional markets comes when facilities partner to create multi-sport complexes.
"We’re working on it. Part of the reason I made the offer was because I have an economics background and I spent a year making models. Running just an ice rink isn’t sustainable. What we need is to look at places that do multisport facilities and see that’s how hockey survives."
Austin's geography makes that tough. Raya cites a report that was conducted showing the vast majority of hockey players in the area live in Cedar Park and Leander, making a facility there a viable option. He counters his own argument with the fact that there is another strong concentration, about one-sixth of the players, in south Austin as well.
Regardless of when or how a new ice surface comes about, Raya's focus is community, quality and competition in everything that he does with the new rink.
"We want to keep everyone playing together, do it well and be the center of it all."