Hockey matches at Evergy Plaza gives locals outlet without travel
It was a freezing 15-degree Monday night as employees at CoreFirst Ice Rink at downtown’s Evergy Plaza got ready for a final employee celebration of pond hockey.
Event manager Dylan Tyler and his staff ran a small ice reclaimer around the ring and did what they do best – scraping away loose ice and pulling out special goals when local hockey enthusiasts showed up.
Since December, pickup games in pond hockey, which is similar to regular hockey but with fewer players, wooden goals, no goaltenders, and a general rule of keeping the puck on the ice, have become routine for Topecans craving a chance to snag Grab your sticks and play around town.
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Many who came out have played for previous professional teams in town, including the Scarecrows, Tarantulas, Roadrunners and most recently the Topeka Pilots, who retired midway through the 2020 season. Members of the Topeka Pilots and other Topekans still play as the Topeka Kings and Topeka Scarecrows in Kansas City, where rinks are more plentiful and offer leagues to keep their skills in check.
Lance Quilling and his brother Brad Quilling played for Topeka teams after relocating from southwest Kansas to the area where Denver was the closest playing location. After playing in college, Lance said he continued to play for the local teams before they closed.
The rink in downtown Topeka, which opened in November and closed last weekend, gave them the chance to skate again without having to travel far.
“I don’t know how[the rink]would have been possible without some of the hockey guys at Topeka,” Tyler said. “We need the people who know how to skate to be our skate monitors because there can’t be everyone out there trying to help people.”
Valerie Jinenez, wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey, prepared to hit the ice and helped her friend Kylee Fine, who had recently moved to Topeka, with the gear and padding.
“I never really played much until I met her,” Fine said. “It became a bigger part of our lives when she moved here and we just followed him wherever we could.”
Jinenez, who is from Edmonton, Canada, has been able to learn at outdoor ice rinks set up by local YMCA organizations. Hockey is as popular in the north as basketball or soccer is here, so infrastructure and support are available to keep ice rinks running all year round.
“I really hope this will help, you know, create more awareness and attention for (skating and hockey),” Jinenez said. “It could be really good for the community. I think it’s a great time, you know, not just for people who want to play hockey, but just get out there, learn… involve your families and all that.”
Although the Topeka rink is closed for the season, the sport’s popularity continues through community-supported Facebook pages such as the Topeka Adult Hockey League and Shawnee County Ice Rink.
Lance said he hopes continuing the discussion will help further fuel interest in creating an ice rink that would be more than a seasonal pop-up.
“That’s something to think about, too,” Lance said. “You know how even (Topeka) we are the largest city in this area with no ice. Like even Saint Joe, it’s about 71,000 (population) and they have an ice rink to sustain.”
“So I know the need is there, we just need to get the county on board. We’ve been trying to get some momentum and then something else happens so we’re really hoping it lasts this time.”