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Updated: Cloquet iced-out until October

Due to a delay in the manufacturing of a new cooling tower, Cloquet won't have ice through September, according to city public works director Caleb Peterson.

Northwoods Credit Union Arena has been without ice since June, when refrigeration workers found the main cooling grid in the cooling tower outside the hockey arena was leaking severely. That's been pushed back to Oct. 1, Peterson said.

The delay means the Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness junior hockey team will make a temporary home at St. Luke's Sports and Event Center in Proctor for practices and games through September.

Original estimates for the fix predicted ice by next week, said Wilderness general manager Dave Boitz, who returned from vacation to find no ice. They are talking with two different ice arenas in the region and expect a decision by the end of the week, Boitz said, adding that practices start Aug. 22.

Boitz said the team has an exhibition and three regular season games in September, then they head to Alaska the first two weeks of October, which gives the city and its contractors a little cushion. He's hoping they won't need it.

"If it gets pushed back any more, we could have a real significant problem," he said, referring to the fact that high school and youth hockey teams will start filling the arena schedules in October and November.

Practices are scheduled to begin Aug. 22. That will be followed by a pre-season contest vs. the Austin Bruins on Sept. 2, the regular season-opener on Sept. 9 vs. the Anchorage Wolverines, and a series vs. the Springfield Jr. Blues on Sept. 28-29.

Boitz said he received offers from several northern Minnesota and Wisconsin facilities to be temporary hosts.

"First, I would like to thank all the area arenas that have reached out in an effort to accommodate us through this unfortunate situation. The St. Lukes Sports and Event Center will be a great fit for us this fall. Not only is it one of the finest arenas in the state, but it also is incredibly close in proximity to our host families and sponsors. Our top priority is to have little or no impact on the players' development, and Proctor is best suited to offer that."  

The St. Luke's Sports and Event Center opened in 2018 and seats 1,200 for hockey. The Wilderness played two games at the Proctor facility during the 2019-20 season.

This is the first time Northwoods has been closed due to a failure of its now aging ice plant since the opening in 1997. The city plans to use sales tax money to completely replace the aging cooling system, likely in 2025.

Editor's note: This story was updated for the web after the Pine Knot News went to press.

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