The Southern Illinois IceHawks youth hockey organization has received permission from the St. Louis Blues to begin using Scottrade Center beginning Nov. 14.
After the U.S. Ice Sports Complex in Fairview Heights closed Oct. 9 because of damage from mine subsidence, the Ice Hawks, local high school club teams and McKendree University were forced to find a new place to play and practice.
Bruce Affleck, the Blues' Chief Operating Officer, had just been to the Fairview Heights rink with the Blues Alumni group playing a charity game against McKendree.
He heard about the rink being shut down and helped work out a plan where the IceHawks could rent ice time at Scottrade Center.
"When a group like that is missing two ice sheets, there's a lot of kids missing out on playing hockey so we wanted to try to help them out," Affleck said. "These kids were without hockey, so we've got to do something."
Scottrade Center is available because of a seven-week lockout between the NHL and NHL Players Association that has delayed the start of the 2012-13 season.
The IceHawks organization includes 250 families and 17 youth teams.
"When we experienced the issue at our home rink, a number of organizations offered their support and assistance - the Blues being among them," IceHawks President Pat McLeod said. "We worked with Bruce Affleck and his team to turn this idea of playing youth hockey at Scottrade into a reality. We can't thanks the Blues enough for this opportunity."
Affleck said Scottrade Center is making ice time available from 4:30-11 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m.-10 p.m. weekends at $250 an hour.
McLeod said the IceHawks will be using the arena seven days a week.
Affleck said even if Blues hockey returns this season, the ice time will continue to be offered around the NHL schedule as well as the usual concerts, the Illinois-Missouri college basketball game and other events.
"Obviously they wouldn't have as much ice time as they'd like, but we're going to try to keep it up and running and let them use it as much as possible," he said.
Since U.S. Ice was closed, the IceHawks have been practicing at various rinks throughout the St. Louis region.
The Fairview Heights rink closure has caused all league games for the local high school club hockey league -- the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association -- to be rescheduled for East Alton Ice Arena and the Granite City Ice Rink.
McKendree has moved some of its home games to East Alton.
Some area high school club teams are practicing at Granite City and/or East Alton, while others have rented ice time at locations in St. Louis. Columbia rents ice time at the Shark Tank in south St. Louis County and has done so for years, according to coach Jeff Royer.
"It's closer for ice and it's better times for us, so it works out really good," Royer said.
The MVCHA opened its regular season Tuesday night at the Granite City Ice Rink with a completely reworked schedule.
MVCHA board member and former president Sam Guarino said the league has also approached Cahokia village officials about the potential of re-opening the Cahokia Ice Rink to provide another place for league teams to practice.
That rink has been closed for several years, he said.
"It's obviously a tough situation for the league," Guarino said Tuesday. "There's really been two key rinks that have anchored the league since the first couple years at East Alton and Fairview Heights. We have managed to move all of the games into Granite City and East Alton.
"If Fairview Heights would come back up, we'd certainly moves games back there."
Granite City and Cahokia are both outdoor rinks, while East Alton and U.S. Ice in Fairview Heights are more traditional indoor facilities.
Guarino said his league spoke with the Blues about potentially using Scottrade Center.
"Even if the ice was the perfect slots for us, we didn't see that as a long-term solution because things could be settled (with the lockout) and then those ice slots would go away," Guarino said. "Then we'd be facing this in the middle of the season looking for somewhere else."
Former Belleville East coach John Thompson still has a son on the team. He was happy the league will proceed as planned.
"All of us hockey parents realize we've been driving these kids around since they were little, so to me that's not that big of a deal," he said when asked about the extra drive time. "My concerns are the kids having to drive quite a bit further themselves."
Royer also mentioned the additional travel time since Columbia is the league's southern-most team.
"Our first game is at 9:50 on Monday night, so our kids won't get in bed until midnight on a school night," Royer said.
O'Fallon coach Ken Barnhill said the MVCHA did the best it could under a tough set of circumstances with little advance notice.
"They were able to keep the games on the same days and I know some times have changed," Barnhill said. "It's not an ideal scenario for anyone, but the MVCHA really did a good job and they did it quickly. We've got a full schedule ahead of us with JV and varsity and we're excited about the year."
Barnhill said O'Fallon has been practicing on weekends at Granite City, but the club team is exploring other options because of the time schedule.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.