S.O. Spartans on the move to start season
With no place to train here in Medford after The RRRink temporarily removed its ice surface in a cost-cutting measure, the Southern Oregon Spartans have had no choice but to get creative as the Junior A hockey club prepares for its debut season in the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL).
As such, the Spartans will be shipping out to Klamath Falls in the interim to begin a training camp that is already one month overdue. The team plans to utilize the Bill Collier Ice Arena, an outdoor rink, at least until the beginning of November beginning Oct. 16.
“The RRRink wasn’t planning on putting in ice until November and basically we can’t push back any longer from a league standpoint to get enough games in before playoffs,” said Spartans owner/head coach Dylan Martin, who joined his wife, Brie, in purchasing the franchise in June 2019, “so we decided to move out there to Klamath Falls. It’s an outdoor facility and, at this time, outdoors is definitely better than indoors. We’re hoping to get back to the RRRink in November.”
In the ever-changing landscape for COVID-19 safety protocols, it’s difficult to know if that plan will be a reality or is sheer optimism by all involved in the hockey circuit.
“I’m not sure when you could play games with it being a no-contact mandate right now for sports,” said The RRRink manager Ellen Eggleston of a decision by the Oregon Health Authority and Gov. Kate Brown.
For his part, Martin said the Spartans are focused on what they can control and do these days and will worry about the next steps when more information is learned.
“We’re just focusing on our training camp starting the 16th,” he said of potential restrictions. “We’re not quite sure what it will look like when we come back here.”
The RRRink owner Dorothy Smith, per the governor’s orders, closed the non-essential business on March 23 to help in the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Believing that it would be a short-term closure, Eggleston said local staff members remained busy in the weeks that followed by doing cosmetic improvements on the facility by cleaning, painting and fixing areas of need.
When it became more clear that the closure would be for an extended period, Smith had the ice surface taken out of the arena May 27 to limit mounting expenses.
“It saved us a lot of money,” said Eggleston of the move. “Running those compressors and the cooling tower is a ton of money.”
With the Spartans having already joined the USPHL in late April as part of a western expansion, Martin felt it important to keep moving forward in hopes that the team would be able to get all the approvals needed to begin their season in mid-September.
The Spartans typically open their training camp after Labor Day, but with the coronavirus pandemic altering everyone’s schedule this year, Martin said he remains optimistic about getting the USPHL season underway at the end of October. The hope is that the Spartans will need to play only three games in Klamath Falls, but those may be under no-contact regulations.
The 44-game regular season schedule builds into playoffs that begin in March. The Spartans will be part of a five-team Pacific Division of the USPHL with the Anaheim Avalanche, Fresno Monsters, Las Vegas Thunderbirds and San Diego Sabers.
“We decided to push forward because we have a roster coming full of great kids that come with great families,” said Martin. “We owe it to them to keep pushing through, even if the season looks a little bit different than normal. We’re just doing all we can to keep going and keep the doors open.”
The Spartans have already secured commitments from 15 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalkeepers, with Martin adding that a few more signings are set to be finalized in the coming days.
To offset travel and in-person opportunities for recruiting, Martin has had to rely mostly on online recruiting. He said he’s been very pleased with how well everything has come together for the 2020-2021 roster, and how well the Spartans’ message to recruits has been received.
“We care about these kids and we care about their development and we care about moving them on to the next level,” said Martin of his pitch. “Not a lot of programs will say that, they’re more wins and losses-based compared to support-based and worrying about these kids on and off the ice.”
Eggleston said The RRRink will have a soft reopening starting Nov. 2, with practice times for the Spartans and local travel teams on tap as well availability for some figure skating classes.
There will be no public skate sessions and the public will not be allowed inside The RRRink until further notice, and all registrations and payments will be done online.
“We’re just going to kind of open real slow and see how that goes before we do anything with the public,” said Eggleston, noting there is also a limit of 100 people allowed in the building at any time under current mandates.
The plan is to begin putting the ice slabs back in and apply necessary paint on Oct. 21, giving plenty of time for The RRRink personnel to handle the process themselves for the first time.
Eggleston said she anticipates the process taking seven days, but it’s difficult to gauge considering everything has been shut down for so long and you can’t know how long it may take to get the slab temperature to freezing levels.
The group is allowing three days for the temperature adjustment, meaning hopefully all is complete by Halloween and truly ready Nov. 2.
“We’re giving the extra days and weekend before we open to let everything settle and harden up,” said Eggleston
In the meantime, Eggleston said she feels for the Martin family and the Spartans, but that all those in the ice arena and hockey business are feeling the pinch these days.
“It’s horrible, it’s horrible for them,” she said. “If we’re not open, they can’t do their thing. And this is the starting of our busy time, too, with the public for birthdays and hockey and everything that goes on. Now we’re taking baby steps to reopen and making sure we get our COVID procedures in place, not really knowing what will happen since this all seems to change on a daily basis. It’s very sad.”
For more on the Southern Oregon Spartans, go to sospartans.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-282-8430.
For more on The RRRink, go to therrrink.com or call 541-770-1177.