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October 23, 2008

Hello, rink supporters, it's getting chilly and soon the rinks will reopen for the season. The outdoor rink season began today in New York City, at the Wollman Trump Rink in Central Park . When I called, they told me their ice is great. Harbourfront plans to open on Nov.15. City Hall will follow a week later on Nov.22, then Dufferin, Rennie, Mel Lastman and Albert Campbell rinks on Nov.29, then all the rest will finally open their ice on December 6.

Timing of rink season:
City management is perhaps still traumatized by the "keep the rinks open" media storm last March, with the Toronto Sun's killer headline "Pink Finks Sink Rinks." Many more outdoor rinks are scheduled to stay open to mid-March this year. In other words, so far, the climate/angle of the sun/rink usage research we did for the past three years INFORMATION BULLETIN, MARCH 2008 seems not to have made much of an impression at city hall. But energy costs and compressor stress may yet force the city to shift the rink season back to its proper time, linked to the season and the sun (i.e. open early in November, close at the end of February). Please pass this link along to your City Councillor or anyone else, to keep spreading the word. (You could be skating today, the light is so low already and it's bracingly cool!)

Different ice maintenance staff:
The city's ice maintenance setup has been transformed, but it's still unclear how that will play out. The only thing we know for sure is that it will cost more. Please send us your stories about ice maintenance at your local rink, as the winter progresses. Perhaps the news will be good!

Public access to city rinks:
Rink supporters from North York, please send in reports about public skating times. For most of last year, North York's rink staff were stuck in their "let's keep the rinks mostly locked" mode. But at the end of the season, with some sustained urging from rink friends, new orders came down, to allow public access to public rinks during non-permit times. Good decision -- now we just have to follow up.

Mandatory helmets for shinny hockey?
Our rink visits during the past three years have shown that many rinks with strict enforcement of the mandatory helmets-for-shinny policies seem to have fewer skaters. This seems especially true for youth. So far, city management has not been interested in revisiting the policy. However, CELOS, (our little research group) is continuing to lobby for another look at the issue, this time with rink user participation.

Rink-related injury claims against the City: We recently obtained copies of all rink-related injury claims against the city, over the last ten years (figures before amalgamation are harder to get). The number of rink-related claims against the City in the last ten years is two, both during organized full-contact hockey inside arenas, one related to checking and one to a fight. There have been no helmet-related claims, nor any claims related to shinny hockey.

As shinny players know, shinny hockey is a game with different rules than full-contact hockey, and many shinny players feel it needs to be kept that way.

Increase in head injuries despite helmets: For those of you who play full-equipment hockey, be careful! It seems that quite a bit of sports medicine research shows that after helmets were made mandatory, head injuries went down for a few years and then began to climb, and are still climbing, as are spinal injuries. We've posted some medical journal articles on the cityrinks media page. The writers speculate that the full-body armour causes hockey players to hit harder (it seems like Don Cherry was right on this one).

The problem of full-contact, full-armour hockey: So it looks like much of the danger seems to be with body-checking rather than with absent helmets. We'll be returning to the topic again this season. So far, helmets officially remain mandatory for shinny hockey, but city rink staff have been instructed not to get into a confrontation with rink users who refuse to wear them (i.e. you can refuse and they're not supposed to throw you out). However, in many rinks the helmet rules are Job One for the rink staff, and -- sadly -- rink users are voting with their feet. Not a good approach for encouraging physical fitness, nor for the joy of the game.

More skates donated to outdoor rinks by the NHLPA: Despite some contentiousness around how the rinks are run, the fact remains that Toronto has more outdoor artificial ice rinks than any city in the world, and winter is almost here. Wonderful! The NHL Players Association has once again shelled out with free skates, sticks and helmets for several city rinks (including Wallace Rink, where the 50 new sets will be rented for the same low prices as at Dufferin and Christie rinks -- $2.50). (Available for pleasure-skating too.)

Free learn-to-play shinny times for beginners: Three rinks that we know of will have regular learn-to-play-shinny times for the true beginners, with extra rink staff to help with skills. To find out more or to register (it's free): Learning To Play Shinny.

Share your information: Please let us know of good programs/features/improvements at other city outdoor rinks, so we can post them.

Jutta Mason

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Content last modified on January 30, 2009, at 02:12 PM EST