HYDE PARK — The Chicago Blackhawks will be at the Midway Plaisance ice rink on Saturday teaching kids to play like the pros on one of the last weekends of the year to go skating at the city's public ice rinks.
“They give out jerseys and sticks and helmets for the kids to use,” said Gary Gallik, general manager of the rink. “The kids look like they have a ball.”
Team trainers from the Blackhawks were out at the rink on Wednesday teaching about 17 kids stickhandling and other drills. Gallik said there’s a chance it will be more than just the trainers on Saturday.
“They might have players — it’s the Olympic break,” Gallik said.
The Chicago Blackhawks were not able to confirm whether any players would attend the event at the 1130 Midway Plaisance North rink. Kids age six to nine will have a chance to get on the ice with trainers from 2-3 p.m. and kids age 10 to 12 will hit the rink from 3-4 p.m.
Registration is available at the rink on Saturday or on the Chicago Park District website. Each of the free sessions is limited to 30 kids. The clinic moves to the Riis rink, 6100 W. Fullerton Ave., on Feb. 12 and 15 and to the Mt. Greenwood rink, 3721 W. 111th St., on Feb. 19 and 22.
The park district's outdoor rinks this year are now being managed by a private company, the Virginia-based Rink Management Services Corporation, which was awarded the $200,000 contract in September. Park District officials said they were seeking to have the rinks run more efficiently and noted that Rink Management planned to offer broom ball and sled hockey, sell advertising on the boards and provide 300 pairs of skates for use at the rinks.
But Tom Hillgrove, president of Rink Management, said attendance has been down across the city because of the heavy snowfall at the outdoor rinks.
“It hasn’t been helpful over all, and the extreme frigid temperatures have not been helpful,” Hillgrove.
Gallik said the extreme cold and heavy snowfall have tamped down use of the Midway rink, which saw more than 500 people skating at once during the opening weekend in November.
“This has been a really over the top winter, it’s just unbelievable,” Gallick said, gesturing to the six-foot mounds of snow that had to be removed before the Zamboni could clear the ice.
Ice skating teacher Denise Darling, who was at the rink Friday, said she’s canceled many classes this year because of the extreme cold.
“Usually there’s lunch-time skaters that come every day and if they’re not coming, that’s a big sign it’s too cold,” Darling said. “I should have been out here all day yesterday.”
Darling said when the thermometer hits 10 degrees or colder, skaters stop showing up.
Darling said the bad weather is a shame because Rink Management has done a better job maintaining the ice after taking over from the park district. Customer service has also improved: Previously, Midway staff wouldn't even answer the phone for skaters wondering if the rink was open.
“They’re always working to give us the best ice possible, and that’s a big plus,” Darling said.
She said the downside is Rink Management is more of a stickler about paying for ice time.
“They would never charge before, but they were supposed to,” Darling said.
Ice skating at the rink is $3 without skate rental and $7 with skate rental.
According to Rink Management, the Midway rink is the most popular public rink in the city.
Darling said some of the city’s best skaters use the rink — even if they may not look like it at first glance.
“I have one [student] that’s four years old and she a phenomenal little skater,” Darling said. “If she stays on the track she’s on, she’s definitely going to the Olympics.”
Three of the Midway’s young skaters also won the park districts’ Silver Skating Competition on Jan. 25 in the seven- to nine-year-old category.
The rink is open for open skate from noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 5 p.m. on Friday, 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
The public rinks close on Feb. 23.