BEMIDJI -- What’s a skating school to do without ice? That’s the dilemma Scott McLean, owner of Burggraf Skating in Bemidji, has faced over the last several months.

The school has provided programs for area hockey players for more than 40 years, and it normally calls Neilson Reise Arena home.

The arena has been closed since March, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The ice was removed in April because of uncertainty regarding when hockey and skating activities can safely resume.

There are no plans to reopen the city-owned Neilson Reise Arena as of now, said Bemidji Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson. The Bemidji City Council has not yet decided on a reopening date. Larson said the council is focused on getting ice in at the Sanford Center first, and will then likely look at the options for Neilson Reise.

The arena’s ice plant dates back to the 1970s and hadn't been shut off since 2005. It would probably take around 30 days to get it up and running to have ice again, Larson said.

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People have begun contacting city council members to urge them to open the rink, McLean said.

Neilson Reise Arena is located at 1115 23rd St. NW in Bemidji. (Pioneer file photo)
Neilson Reise Arena is located at 1115 23rd St. NW in Bemidji. (Pioneer file photo)

In the meantime, McLean has resorted to off-ice training since June. Players work in small groups with no more than six present at a time.

“We’re working on speed and strength and quickness through various exercises and training techniques,” McLean said. “They’re staying on their skates longer. They’re training to win puck battles and win those puck races.”

Most of the participants this summer were local with players from the youth through high school levels taking part.

Players have also made use of a device called a PowerSkater that mimics the feel of skating on ice.

“It’s progressive resistance training on a track just in their tennis shoes, but it gets them down into the skating position,” McLean said. “And it develops a long, extended stride with a quick stride rate once they get their proper form and technique down.

“So that’s been taking the place of the ice, which there isn’t really anything that can replace the ice. But this is the closest thing that I’ve found through almost 30 years of training that does that.”

Bemidji rink plans

Fall weather is already here, so that means hockey season is just around the corner. What’s the status of Bemidji’s other rinks?

The Bemidji Community Arena has ice and reopened in August with the Northern Minnesota Hockey Camp. The BCA’s new second rink, dubbed the Sanford POWER Rink in July, is still under construction. An opening date remains to be determined, though the rink could be ready by approximately mid-October.

The Sanford Center is expected to have to ice in place by Sept. 14.

Attempts to reach Bemidji Area Schools, the owner of Nymore Arena, were unsuccessful.

Burggraf Skating, meanwhile, will take advantage of the BCA ice later this month for a clinic that was postponed from March.

Business is down for the school since the number of programs it can offer is limited without ice. McLean is hopeful to use the BCA for other events, though most ice time at the arena is reserved for its primary tenant, the Bemidji Youth Hockey Association.

Even though running a skating school without ice has been challenging, McLean is committed.

“As a business, I’ve adjusted to what I’m doing,” McLean said. “But we’re still here. We’re not going away.”