Since the birth of the Fort Wayne Komets in 1952, this town has been known as a Hockey Town, though it’s a title surprisingly few people acknowledge. Canlan Ice Sports by Lutheran Health Center has answered a challenge by offering a variety of community based sport options – and hockey is a big part of it – and it is a possible answer to help city growth.
Located in a struggling area of town that is burdened with vacated commercial property, it has much to offer the area. You can find the facility between Wells Street and Lima Road across from the Glenbrook Mall. It was designed as a classic, open field-house, which offers the program on the interior to be simple and easily upgradeable. Three surfaces offer variability and flexibility, with three different sports being played at once, and the acoustics relay excitement to each surface. While watching curling on one surface, you can hear the crowd cheering from an IPFW hockey game on another.
From the lobby, it is a short walk to any destination under the roof. An upstairs restaurant, the Thirsty Camel, overlooks all three surfaces, giving families a chance to watch hockey from a different vantage point, and it allows parents to explain the game to their kids while enjoying some traditional arena food. Game-play sounds from each ice surface are sectored off evenly throughout the Thirsty Camel, allowing spectators to be much closer to the on-ice action.
As Canlan exists within the city, its programmatic function within the community will reach far, much like McMillen’s did, but on a different scale. People traveled far to an arena that was not set within the interior of the city. Now, with Canlan being centralized, the facility is accessible from any direction, and it has an ease of location being sandwiched between two of Fort Wayne’s busiest streets. Its operating hours differ from any other venue in town since they are open from 7 A.M. to as late as 12 A.M. It is a little farther than a mile from the center of Fort Wayne (roughly the Allen County Courthouse area), and has this advantage over not being located many miles from the center of town. Being centralized offers opportunity for a more prosperous vertical growing city and can allow for more activity growth within the downtown area. Bringing more people to this area is always a good thing for any city, and Canlan supports this growth.
Martin Holleley, the manager of the complex, is extremely proud of the effect that this community facility has had, and will continue to have, on the interior of Fort Wayne. Core sports values like teamwork and wellness are top priorities to him, along with player support within each sport – he is extremely pleasant with amount of camaraderie underneath the roof. He reports employment of eight full-time employees – one of which is well-known Russian figure skater Alena Lunin, who teaches most of the figure skating programs and has competed at the World level – and fifty five part-time employees. Craig Fischer, President of the Fort Wayne Curling Club (FWCC), has weekly tournaments on one of the surfaces. He told me that he welcomes any and all that want to try curling. That is a small taste of the talented staff this facility has to offer. Holleley’s staff promotes a winter sports environment – something that has not been evident in Fort Wayne in a long while – and always have smiles on their faces.
Fort Wayne understands its relation to its population and sports within the city. The recent addition of Parkview Field in the downtown area is a testament to the revitalization of the city’s nightlife. Since Canlan is sited two miles from the new baseball stadium, both are huge steps in the attractiveness of Fort Wayne. Cities identify themselves by their sports teams, and while the city is not well-known as a Hockey Town, that is exactly what it is – priding itself on the Komets, as it has since their birth in the fifties. The Allen County War Memorial Colisem, which is a walkable distance from the facility, is one of the largest enclosed spaces lying on the brink of being located downtown. Canlan is going to reinforce this relationship drastically by evolving the character of winter sports within the town, and these sport functions can happen year-round, and it supports a hockey season that is one to two months longer than any other sport in the city.
Programs like Bounce Mania enable children from all ages to participate in a variety of activities under one roof. Although hockey is its primary focus, other programs are on the rise. Canlan offers figure skating, learn-to-skate programs for youth and adults, curling, broom ball, roller hockey, speed skating, and sled, which caters to handicapped hockey play and is extremely popular.
Yes, The Plex certainly has more land available, but when comparing built structural area, Canlan has the upper hand. There are many similarities between The Plex and Canlan, but Canlan has done things better in terms of spectating, acoustics, program, and function. Canlan can do exactly what The Plex can do with its surfaces, and The Plex cannot reciprocate with ice-surfacing. If you have seen what The Plex has done for Fort Wayne in terms of venue and community development, it’s safe to say that Canlan has an extremely bright future ahead of itself. Both buildings serve different functions for the community, and where one has performed greatly, the other will follow suit.
Several professional hockey players from the Komets provide assistance by offering skill development programs and sharing firsthand experience regarding the hockey scene. This is not only beneficial to the youth and adults who are enrolled in these programs, but to the Komets organization itself. This helps with the Fort Wayne Hockey Town identity by engaging more people to take an interest in the sport. They directly give back to the community that supports them, which is a beautiful circle of community development. Fort Wayne Federals, which is associated with the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League (GLJHL), has its home ice on Canlan’s surface, which is yet another booster for community development.
Things look bright for Canlan Ice Sports in Fort Wayne – and for the city itself. Since construction was completed, there has been a flurry of development around the site. A new Sunoco gas station has been completed. A hotel was built to the north of Lutheran Health Center’s property within the past year. Many big box buildings, such as Steve and Barry’s Clothing Store and K’s Merchandise, are located on the periphery of Canlan and will hopefully find tenants with the drive that Canlan exudes. This type of construction and development in the wake of Canlan’s construction offers visions and values that are crucial for city development and a sustainable future.
Photos by Tony Frantz