This morning, I sat down with the new owner of the Spooner Civic Center, Dennis Canfield, for a cup of coffee at The Dock to find out more about who he is and what his plans are for the previously vacant civic center. The following is the Q & A part of our conversation.
DW: I hear you have been a part of hockey for most of your life. When did this all start for you?
Dennis: I started playing hockey when I was 3 ½ in Batavia, New York, just outside of Buffalo.
DW: When did you realize that hockey was going to be your future?
Dennis: Hockey has always been about family and where I grew up, our family was all about the Buffalo Sabres. Hockey was a way of life when I was a kid, similar to the area around here and the passion that people have for hockey in this community.
DW: Where and when did you graduate high school?
Dennis: I graduated from Depew High School in New York where I also played hockey. Depew, by the way, is also the home of ‘The Majik Man' Don Majkowski, former Packers QB, our only real claim-to-fame. I Graduated in '98.
DW: After high school?
Dennis: I played Junior hockey in Wheatfield for the Junior Blades and played tier 2 hockey in Canada until age 20. Then played 1 more year in Michigan until I was 21. After that, I attended the University of Findlay in Ohio. Then I transferred to St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. Eventually, I transferred back to Findlay I graduated in 2005 with a degree in business administration with an emphasis in hospitality w/ a minor in marketing. While I was there I was the president of the hospitality association. Then I played minor pro hockey for several years until 2007 when I got out of hockey as a player and got into coaching, which I have been doing ever since.
DW: You were the owner of a team at one point?
Dennis: Yes, when I was 28 years old, I founded and coached the Jamestown Jets for 3 seasons. When I arrived in Jamestown, NY I became fully invested in the town and worked tirelessly to intertwine into the fabric of that community. It was there I learned the work ethic necessary to be successful. It was a great experience that I’ve carried with me and has led me to where I am today.
DW: What other hockey experiences have you had since Jamestown?
Dennis: I have been a head coach and scout for JR hockey programs.
DW: When did you 1st start thinking about buying the Spooner Civic Center?
Dennis: For the past several months we have been looking in the Minnesota area (north of the Twin Cities) and northwest Wisconsin to find a home for our Junior team. We looked at multiple locations in strategic areas but the Spooner arena offers us the best amenities for our program and organization.
DW: What made you choose Spooner as your new home?
Dennis: Listen, I'm a hockey guy. This all started because hockey is my life, and what I am really good at is building hockey programs, marketing and networking. Beyond that, I am only as good as the people I surround myself with and I’m proud to say I surround myself with the best. While our vision here in Spooner originated with seeking a home for our hockey team; now we recognize there is potential for so much more.
DW: Who is your junior hockey team?
Dennis: Well... more information on that will be released at a later time, that's all I can say.
DW: Fair enough. What would you say your vision is for the civic center?
Dennis: My vision is that I want the center to be the source of community pride and family entertainment. I also want to bring back the tradition of hockey. We know the great history here and we want to recapture that. We plan to host additional events beyond hockey once we get the building up and running.
DW: I have heard that the building needs updates and repairs, including a very inefficient energy system, what are your plans to address the repairs needed?
Dennis: When we initially looked at this facility, the very 1st person that I brought in to look at it was an Arena Manager - a person familiar with the system - and I also brought in an engineer. Since the building was built and since it has been closed, there have been many advances in technology through more efficient systems, and we are exploring all possible means to address that, but we have not decided on which one we will be using yet. There are improvements that we are aware of and we are currently addressing them.
DW: In recent years, the rink portion has opened and closed several times. The community is excited about it being reopened, but some have trepidation and are unsure if this time it will stay open. What would you say to those who have doubt and how will you build their trust?
Dennis: We are committed to being here in Spooner. We are all in. We are now community members ourselves. You can add 3 more to the Spooner population sign. Regarding the past owners, well, honestly, we don't care about the past. We care about the now and how to continue moving forward. All we can do is put our best foot forward and commit ourselves to the community. We have plans that we will roll out in phases: phase 1 is the Ice Arena. It is built for hockey. It needs to be run as a hockey arena. We will be a multi-use facility but phase 1 is this: 1st and foremost an Ice Arena. It will house our local association, it will house our junior club, and various other groups as we progress. We want everyone to have this be their home.
DW: Speaking of the local association, how do you plan on working with the youth hockey program?
Dennis: The 1st thing we did when we came to town is we contacted the local youth association. They deserve a home. It's their rink and their town. I may have purchased the rink, but this arena is the community's and they deserve their rink back. The same goes for the high school programs, local figure skating groups, etc.
DW: When do you plan on opening the rink?
Dennis: The target date is September 1st, but that could be much earlier. There is a lot of work to be done and it is already underway, so we will see.
DW: What are your plans for the other parts of the building: Pool, Gym, Restaurant/Bar?
Dennis: As part of our initial phase we will look at leasing out other areas of the building, allowing us to focus on what we are best at. Regarding the pool itself, we will likely be filling that in sooner than later.
DW: Is there a lot of work to be done to the other areas you will be leasing?
Dennis: It is a misconception amongst the community that the arena has been liquidated. Everything for the restaurant and the other areas in the facility are largely ready-to-go, all of the equipment and stuff is there. We are open to leasing those areas and we will examine and explore all possibilities from those community members that may be interested.
DW: Originally, I think, the building was called the Civic Center, then it was changed to the NW Sports Complex and most recently the Spooner Ice House. What do you plan to name the arena now?
Dennis: The plan is to offer it to the community in regards to the naming rights.
DW: When speaking about the building, hockey, and this community, you seem very passionate.
Dennis: I'm an educated guy, but man, I'm also a blue-collar, hard-working guy; I put my work boots on every day and I go to work. Our product that we will be bringing here will carry a workman-like attitude, as well. When we walked around and listened to the community and asked questions, the number 1 thing that we heard was “our town really needs this.” After all, what we are doing is also going to help bring money back into the community. And, Ben, like the sign says that we put up on the outside of the building: “Your Town, Your Arena, Your Team”.
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