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Oxbow's arena and curling rink need new ice plant

Natural ice might have to be used in the arena next season.
The ice plant for the Oxbow Arena and Curling Rink has outlived its life expectancy.

OXBOW - The condition of the ice plant at Oxbow's arena and curling rink could impact the town's winter sports offerings for next season.

In an interview with the Mercury and SaskToday, recreation manager Lane Nicholls and community development officer Treena Mohrbutter said when the town fired up the 37-year-old ice plant for the 2023-24 season, there were three leaks and a problem with the actuator, which cost $50,000 to repair.

And when they shut down the plant following this season, they found two more leaks in the ice plant, which needs to be replaced.

"We're looking at an 80 per cent chance that we'll have natural ice next year, depending on where these leaks are actually located," said Nicholls.

The arena and the curling rink share the ice plant, which has two sides and two compressors. Most of the time one compressor is needed, especially when it's cold outside, but during warmer days, Nicholls said both compressors and both sides help each other out.

An ice plant has a life span of about 25 years, so Oxbow's current unit has done well to hold on for this long.

If they have to run natural ice next season, Nicholls said it means curling likely wouldn't be offered.

The town is waiting to get the system pressurized to determine exactly where the leaks are located. If the issues are in a copper line rather than a main component, it would be an easier fix, and they could cut the lines out and replace them.

"If it's in our condenser, then we'll be natural ice. Our condenser's already been repaired three or four times. It's a $120,000 part. If that's the case, then it's done and we'd be looking at natural ice," said Nicholls.

During the 2023-24 season, there were some "touch-and-go moments", Nicholls said, especially when temperatures warmed up in late January. Curling had to be cancelled for one night because the ice plant couldn't keep up. There was also a Big Six Hockey League game that was at risk of being postponed due to warm weather affecting the ice.

This season the town had seven minor hockey league teams, the Oxbow Huskies' Big Six Hockey League team, figure skating, rentals most weekends and public skates for the arena; and two leagues and youth activities for the curling rink.

"It's busy pretty much every day straight from when school's done until 11 o'clock at night," said Nicholls.

The community has raised about $183,000 for the new ice plant, which has a price tag of $700,000. It would be a "green option" that would save operating costs during the season and create more grant opportunities.

The Oxbow Recreation Board has donated all of the funds from its Chase the Ace fundraiser. The oilmen's committee provided $15,000, the RM of Moose Creek gave $10,000 and Vermilion Energy donated $5,000. The rink board has hosted numerous fundraisers.

A supper and dance on May 3 will happen at the arena. Country music act Quinton Blair will perform. Tickets are $70 each and there will be tables of eight available. Proceeds will go to the ice plant replacement.

Mohrbutter also noted they have an autographed Tanner Jeannot hockey stick for a draw. Jeannot is an Oxbow hockey product currently playing for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. Tickets are $20 each and 200 tickets are available.

"They've been doing lots and lots of fundraisers," said Mohrbutter.

The town is also applying for a grant through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' Green Municipal Fund for a community building retrofit.

Earlier this year, Oxbow submitted a bid for the Kraft Hockeyville contest, and while it wasn't selected as one of the four finalists, Nicholls said they received a lot of community support, as their bid was among the national leaders for photos, videos and comments.

"I think it helped not only in our community, but in all of the surrounding communities as well to know how dire it was," said Mohrbutter.

"The nice thing about Kraft Hockeyville is even though we didn't make the top four, all those stories that the community puts up there just reinforce the fact of how important the ice plant and the rink and curling are to the community, and how much of a necessity it is that it's up and running for next season or longer."

Once they have the money, it will take about eight to 12 months for the installation process to be completed. If they reach their goal by the end of this year they hope to have the plant installed for the 2025-26 season.

If Oxbow uses natural ice for next season, and if the temperatures are similar to the winter of 2023-24, then they likely wouldn't start until December. Teams would have to practise and have early-season games elsewhere. Big Six teams can't play on natural ice, he said, so they would have to play elsewhere. These changes would impact revenues for the concession, which would in turn hurt the fundraising.

Updates on the ice plant replacement fundraiser can be found on the town's website at