AUBURN — Jamie Belleau didn’t waste a second.
“I booked ice immediately,” Belleau said. “You can ask the rink administrator here, it took no time at all. You couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”
Belleau, the boys’ varsity ice hockey coach at Lewiston High School, stood with his arms folded. It was cold at Ingersoll Arena — unseasonably cold, given that it was 65 degrees and pouring rain on the outside.
But in the confines the rust-orange and silver building at Pettingill Park, it felt like January.
For the first time since anyone at the rink Friday could remember, there was a sheet of ice down in the Twin Cities.
And it’s about booked solid this summer.
“I’m pleased we booked our ice so quickly,” Belleau said. “I don’t think there’s anymore available.”
Belleau and winter high school coaches around the state are allowed to be with their athletes during a 10-week period over the summer. Friday marked the first of 10 weekly two-hour sessions for the Blue Devils.
“Summer programs we did before we had basically a structured game schedule, and we had to travel 25, 35 or 40 minutes one way to get to them,” Belleau said.
Now, thanks to the Auburn Recreation Department, Ingersoll has replaced common destinations like Kennebec Ice Arena in Hallowell, Falmouth Family Ice Center and Travis Roy Arena at North Yarmouth Academy for a number of local organizations.
“Every time during the summer months, many of us (from Lewiston/Auburn) would go to other rinks, we’d see half the people involved in those programs were from here,” rink administrator Mike Berube said. “We put two and two together and said, ‘You know what, I think it’s time to put something together to go year-round.”
That meant improvements, of course, to the rink and its infrastructure. Already slated for a cosmetic makeover with new boards and glass, renovations were altered to include new compressors and new insulation, necessary for days when the mercury outside pushes triple digits.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Berube said. “The people, the teams are happy they don’t have to travel as much. The economy is tight, so people are saving money by not having to go 30, 40, 50 or 60 miles to play hockey.”
Kennebec hasn’t been as hard hit as some other rinks this summer. According to rink manager K.C. Johnson at the Hallowell rink, there are the same number of teams playing there this year as there were last year.
“We’ve regionalized a bit, but we haven’t seen a drop-off,” Johnson said.
Clinics have also noticed the Auburn rink. Pamphlets for several regional skating, shooting and goaltending clinics are in a case by the front door of the rink. Many now offer a summer stop in Auburn. One even had to post a sticky note in each pamphlet after finding out about the ice at Ingersoll after they’d already gone to print.
Hockey isn’t the only thing thriving this summer.
“We have men’s league, women’s league, youth hockey for girls and boys, public skating, shinny, you name it,” Berube said. “Our goal is to make this community-oriented, for everyone here in the area.”
The new schedule has also helped fringe businesses, particularly those located inside the rink, like the concession stand and the pro shop.
“People come in and they’re surprised we’re open,” said Scott Bussiere, who operates the rink’s concession stand. “It was slow a bit in March, April and May because all we had were clinics, but now that things have picked up with hockey, it’s picking up. I was worried maybe we’d have to spend too much, but it’s been good for the bottom line so far.”
As far as rink-wide expenditures, Berube said the jury is still out, since the whole idea is new. But, he said, so far, so good.
“We don’t know the whole dynamics of cost versus profit yet, because we haven’t gone through a whole summer yet,” Berube said. “But the response has been great and the involvement of the people has been good. It’s had a positive effect, and by bringing in the hockey, and by bringing in the business, it also helps the surrounding businesses, the hotels, the restaurants, the gas stations. It helps the whole community, not just Ingersoll Ice Arena.”
But, Berube figured, it had to start somewhere.

Tyler Couture, 11, of Auburn, skates in shorts on the ice at Ingersoll Arena during public skating Sunday.  This is the first year the rink has been open in the summer.

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