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Collaboration in Carlton

01/31/2012, 1:40pm CST
By Aaron Paitich

Small town keeping hockey – and an indoor facility – alive and well

 Only 800 people or so live in Carlton, Minn. That doesn’t stop them from running their own indoor ice facility. The small town just south of Cloquet has been sporting a hockey arena, the Four Seasons Sports Complex and Event Center, since September 1996.

It’s a genuine community effort.
“You know, in these small arenas, you’re a parent, you’re a coach, my wife’s the concession manager, I’m kind of the maintenance man – we kind of do it all,” said Scott Patten, who has been heavily involved for four years.

Keeping the doors open

 There are just two Carlton teams utilizing the facility – a Mite 1 and Mite 2 squad that use a combined six hours of ice each week. The Four Seasons also rents ice time to numerous teams from surrounding cities, such as Hermantown, Esko and Cloquet, for tournaments and practices. Carlton has also started a no-check league on Wednesdays that has become increasingly popular. The overall rink schedule is booked from November through the end of December.

But how do they fill time outside of peak season?

The schools use the arena for baseball and softball practice before the fields are ready. It’s also being rented out for weddings – a new way to generate revenue. Last year, it even hosted a circus.

“We’re just trying to come up with different, creative ways to keep making money and keep the doors open,” Patten said.

The only paid positions at the arena are held by the two ice-resurfacer operators. Everything else is 100 percent volunteer, but that wasn’t always the case. Black Bear Casino used to contribute $10,000 per year and other contributors have since pulled funding for the facility. To keep it operational, parents show up to run the concession stands every night.

“We still find a way to keep the building running for the kids,” Patten said. “We don’t have a lot of money coming in, so we have to watch every penny and try and keep Carlton hockey alive.”

Carlton tidbits

⇒ The ice stays in from November to March every year.

⇒ The City of Carlton now owns the arena. It was sold to them a few years ago.

⇒ Al Soukkala was one of the main people behind fundraising and building the arena back in 1996. Kirk Johnson was also heavily involved.

⇒ Rick Seivert and Janet Adkins are the arena’s two current worker bees, along with Patten.

⇒Youth numbers change every year, but seem to be trending upward. They have most recently reached out to surrounding cities, inviting their youngsters to join the program by putting fliers up in Cromwell, McGregor and Wrenshall.

“We’ve gotten some kids from those smaller communities that didn’t have the opportunity to play hockey up until three or four years ago when we reached out to them.”

⇒ Minnesota State forward Justin Jokinen is a Carlton product. Jokinen was a Buffalo Sabres fourth-round pick (101st overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. The senior Maverick posted 7 points through 20 games this season. He was a Mr. Hockey finalist his senior season at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, when he led the Lumberjacks to the 2007-2008 state tournament.

“There are Carlton kids all the way through the Cloquet program,” said Patten. “We have representation in all levels of hockey over there.” 

Tag(s): February 2012