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Sweating it out for the next generation

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POPLAR POINT -- A couple of days ago, Perry Dickenson found himself 20 feet in the air on top of a ladder out on the ice of the J.P. Bend Memorial Arena to bring down the old-school scoreboard for some electrical work.

"It wasn't so bad going up. Coming down with the scoreboard was a bit tricky," he said, laughing.

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Dickenson, Warren Bend and a small army of volunteers from Poplar Point and area have been slowly renovating the arena in the small Manitoba town of about 250 people for the past decade.

It's truly a labour of love, since the volunteers are funding the project through donations and government grants that require some sweat equity in return. That's coming from the cracking bones in their backs and the sweat on their brows.

"We're donating our time, giving back to the community. We enjoy doing it and we want kids around here to have the same opportunity we had because this rink was here," said Dickenson, 52. "If we make any money from the 100 Years of Hockey celebrations, we'll be putting it toward a new ice-surfacing machine."

Good call. Because the one they have is an old green tractor pulling a flooding unit that looks like a metal box. Might be one of the first ones invented.

"We have our eye on one in Saskatchewan. We're trying to do everything here as green as possible, so it's a reconditioned electric Zamboni, but it's about $65,000."

The volunteers have received generous donations from the community in memorabilia of photos and old equipment displayed on two walls in the lobby, and cash donations commemorated by a "Wall of Pucks." A donation of $20 gets you a puck on the wall with your name on it in silver writing. Give $100 and you get a puck on the wall with your name in gold writing. Dickenson has the gold and silver Sharpie markers sitting on a table nearby, ready for the next donation.

"The rink means a lot to this community. We're doing this so it'll be there for our grandkids so they can come here and skate too," Dickenson said.

Skating and shinny are the main activities in the arena because it doesn't meet the safety standards for games. There's no glass on the boards, no protective netting and no money to put them in.

"There will never be another actual game in here. Just come here and practise and see what it's like," he said. "We call it the outdoor rink indoors. This is pretty much outdoor ice with a roof over it and some walls around it."

Sure enough, it's so cold in the rink your breath is freezing on your face, but the ice is excellent. If you want to drive out, ice time is cheap. Compared to $186-$220 per hour in the city, it's just $35 per hour.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 C7

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