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 Northwoods Credit Union secures naming rights for Cloquet hockey arena

By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal

It’s been 13 years since the “new” indoor hockey arena in Cloquet opened its doors, and beginning this hockey season, the facility will have a brand new name.

Previously known as the Cloquet Area Recreational Facility (CARC), the arena will now be known as Northwoods Credit Union Arena. In exchange for the naming rights, the locally based credit union will have its logo on the ice on either side of the Lumberjack logo inside the blue lines of the hockey rink as well as signage on several locations outside the building in return for an annual payment.

According to Barb Brown, president of Northwoods Credit Union (NWCU) after the credit union’s seven-member board of directors approved the idea, they signed a formal, 20-year commitment with the Cloquet Area Hockey Association (CAHA) and the city of Cloquet.

“We met on it and discussed it and we thought it was a great idea as a way to help the hockey association and the community of Cloquet and to help out with the expenses at the rec center,” said Brown. “Hockey is such a big part of Cloquet and its history, and there are so many of our members and their children who have played hockey or are still playing, as well a lot of coaches. Everybody in our community is familiar with hockey; it’s just such a big part of Cloquet and what Cloquet is.”

Though the idea of coming up with a sponsor for naming rights to the arena had been kicked around for quite some time, but CAHA President Mike Acheson admitted he didn’t think they’d ever find anyone who was interested in making that type of financial commitment.

“Then, I was talking about it to Ann [Dunaiski, concessions manager at the arena] and suggested she bring the idea up to the board of directors at Northwoods Credit Union, where she is a board member,” Acheson said.

Board members liked the idea. In fact, they liked it so much they said yes right off the bat and formally approved it at that very same meeting.

“Ann [Dunaiski] called me about it the next day and told me they were as excited as heck about it and that Barb [Brown] loved the idea,” said Acheson.

Part of annual financial support secured from the naming rights contract will go to establish a scholarship program in Northwoods Credit Union’s name to provide hockey tuition for underprivileged kids from any of the schools who call the arena home ice and who want to play hockey.

“What the naming rights and the money from the credit union are going to do is help keep hockey from being so expensive,” said Ostoff. “It will help keep expenses down, and we’re very excited to have that scholarship fund because there are members of this community who can’t afford hockey and we want them to have that opportunity. It is an expensive facility to run, so this will be tremendous in making sure our members are not strapped with having to run it and pay for it.”

The balance of the NWCU funding will go entirely toward capital expenditures for the building.

“That’s what our long-term plan is for that money,” said Acheson. “It’s not for paying our light bills or water bills or to buy food for the concession stand,” explained Acheson. “There are some new indoor air quality regulations coming for hockey arenas in the state of Minnesota. We’re either going to have to buy an electric Zamboni or spend a quarter of a million dollars on refurbishing all of our air exchange equipment.”

And as for the reaction of the CAHA board when they got the good news about the credit union’s financial commitment?

“I had zero opposition from anybody!” said Acheson with a broad grin. “The last three years have probably been the first time that the association has not only maintained this building financially but also seen some huge improvements. And we’re doing it all while operating in the black with no financial support from anybody.”

Acheson said in the past, the city of Cloquet used to provide financial support for the arena from the money they made off the lease from the cell phone tower located on city land adjacent to the hockey arena. He said that support was rescinded three years ago. He added the Fond du Lac Reservation also used to give $25,000 to CAHA annually, but they, too, pulled out two years ago.

That was a point in time, said Acheson, when things could have gone either way, but the board and its members dug down deep and managed to begin to turn things around. He said the success over the past year was largely due to “the work of really good people and dedicated members.”

“Annie [Dunaiski] wears every hat that can be worn around here,” he said, “and Brianna [Ostoff] has a background in ice facilities. She is also is just a phone call away from networking with her father, who has run the rink in Mankato for the past 30 years. That’s what she grew up with.”

To have landed a sponsor for the facility’s naming rights is the next step, Acheson said, in helping to secure the long-term future of the program. Kate Mason, marketing director for the credit unions, added that NWCU is thrilled to have a hand in making it happen.

“The whole staff is very excited about it and the board is excited about it,” she said. “We helped out with the concession stand at the arena one night last year, and we plan on doing that more often.”

Mason said Northwoods is currently working with school district officials on plans for a formal dedication ceremony at a time and date yet to be determined.

The first Northwoods Credit Union Arena logos were laid into the arena ice last week, but when workers came to the arena on Sunday, they discovered that the cooling tower had broken down and the ice had begun to melt. The cooling plant had been there since the building was first built 13 years ago, and efforts to mend it with a temporary weld failed.

Acheson explained that a cooling tower has to be specially built after the time it is ordered, which would have incurred significant delays. CAHA learned of a similar cooling tower, however, that had been built for the arena in Eveleth. Since it wasn’t slated for installation until next spring, Cloquet was fortunate enough to get that one.

“Without it, we wouldn’t have had ice this winter,” said Acheson, explaining the only alternative would have been to utilize the old arena known as “The Barn,” located adjacent to the newer facility and now used for youth practices and tournaments.

“Our numbers are looking really good this year and I don’t know how we would have even gotten in enough time for everybody,” said Ostoff.

The new cooling towers will likely be installed in three weeks and then the ice will have to be installed in the arena and lines painted.

“We’re going to need community support on that – people who are dedicated and have the time to paint and do it well during what will mostly like be the opening of deer hunting,” said Ostoff. “People don’t realize that it’s a lot of hard work to put that ice in. You can do it in a day with a crew, but we just don’t have a crew on staff.”

She said no special painting skills are needed except the ability to follow a line and urged anyone interested to contact her at 218-879-1500.

This year’s Cloquet-Esko-Carlton varsity hockey season is slated to kick off its year on Nov. 18 for the girls and Dec. 3 for the boys.

The Northwoods Credit Union Arena logos will share the ice space with Sappi and SPC Packaging of Superior.

“As a board member for Northwoods Credit Union, I am super excited about this because we’re always looking at ways to get involved in the community and how we can help out,” summed up Dunaiski. “As for working out here [at the arena], I know how our association is so financially strapped, so I see both sides of it.”

Dunaiski said some of the folks using the facility’s walking track have asked if they will still be able to walk there after the transition to Northwoods Credit Union Arena, and she assured everyone that they can.

“Things will still go along the same as they did,” she added.

Acheson said he is excited about the arena’s new naming arrangement and CAHA’s association with NWCU.

“Can you think of a better name for an arena in Cloquet, Minnesota, than ‘Northwoods?’” he said.







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