Fishers rink a great deal for hockey, Fuel

The Indy Fuel announced Thursday that the team’s ownership group had purchased the Fishers Forum and renamed it the Fuel Tank in Fishers.

There are way too many positives for this move to list, both for the Fuel and for the long-term growth of hockey in Central Indiana.

On the surface, the benefits are simple – the Fuel can put their name on two of the metro area’s busiest ice sheets – in addition to the two ice sheets at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, where they play their home games. The more one can tie the local pro team to the grassroots, the better. The Columbus Blue Jackets – an NHL team, but one operating in a very similar market to Indianapolis – do the same with the “Chiller” rinks throughout central Ohio.

The building formerly known as the Forum hosts public skating, youth hockey leagues, high school hockey, adult recreational hockey leagues – all the core audience for the Fuel.

It has been a big part of the growth of hockey in Central Indiana. Three decades ago, the only 12-months-a-year ice sheets in the region were at the Carmel Ice Skadium, complemented by the often-busy Coliseum and a couple of rinks at city parks. Since, we’ve seen rinks open in Fishers and Westfield, as well as the now-gone Pan Am Plaza downtown, and all are incredibly busy, giving more options for local youth to learn to skate and play hockey, and for adults to be a part of this growing game.

Purchasing the Fishers rink also reiterates the Fuel’s commitment to grass-roots hockey. The team supports youth hockey – visibly at games by donating the 50/50 raffle proceeds to youth hockey organizations, and having a player begin each night’s on-ice pregame show by skating the Fuel flag to center ice.

But owning a rink that houses leagues and travel teams allows for an even greater depth of that commitment and the marriage between all levels of hockey. Having Mike Berger run the hockey operations at the rink is another win – yes, he’s a former player with the Checkers and the CHL’s Ice, but he has also been a big part of the local hockey community since retiring as a player in 2000, as a high school and youth coach. You can’t find too many better ambassadors for the game.

But what’s the real clincher for the Fuel is the future plan for the property. It will undergo a renovation – slated to be completed by October – that will upgrade the facility, with more office space, a new pro shop and expanded parking. What’s even bigger is that it will include a fitness center that will be able to be used by both Fuel players and be open for the community to purchase memberships.

Longer-term, the Fuel plan to build a professional-caliber locker room in the facility and build on-site housing for players, and make it the team’s practice facility.

That is a game-winner for the team. It will help keep everything in one place, with the players able to live, work out and train – both on-ice and on dry land – at one site. Having nearly-universal access to workout facilities, for example, is huge.

The Fuel achieve a lot of economies of scale by doing so. Keeping the players’ housing – which the team pays for in the ECHL – practice rink and training facilities all under the team’s umbrella is a financial win. By not having to rent those items from others, they can control both the equipment and amenities available, and do so without having to rent or purchase space from others. That, too, can aid in player recruitment. With access to modern, state-of-the-art housing connected to the team’s practice rink, that can add to Indy’s advantages for potential free agents. Remember, the ECHL is primarily a free agent league – with players playing on one-year contracts. Indy is already an attractive place to play as one of the largest markets in the league and with a first-class coaching staff and energetic, player and fan-friendly front office, but this makes it even moreso.

What’s even better is the opportunity to generate revenue through the various streams the rink can generate – notably, through the sale of ice time.

Hopefully, this can also continue to contribute to the growth of hockey in Indiana. Indianapolis has contributed a handful of NHLers – the Hurricanes’ John-Michael Liles is from Zionsville, while new Blackhawks signee and the Bruins’ Zach Trotman are both from Carmel. Central Indiana also has more than 6,000 players registered by USA Hockey, one of the top figures in the nation outside of New England and Minnesota/Wisconsin. That’s a great foundation. The Fuel are contributing to building both that foundation and their franchise, which can only benefit both.