No ice, no problem: Lack of rink time not affecting Grand Valley youth hockey teams

Eleven-year-old Justin Fowler works on his stick-handling skills during a recent dry land practice. Fowler is a member of the Junior Mavericks Pee Wee team, which has to be creative in practice because they don’t have a home rink to practice on.

Trevor Carmichael wasn’t about to hang up the ice skates just because Glacier Ice Arena closed its doors because of a breakdown in the refrigeration system.

The Grand Junction 12-year-old grew up playing hockey in Calgary, Alberta, and has played for seven years.

“I was going to play on a different team,” Carmichael said. “I wasn’t sure if we’d have a team. It’s nice to have a team here. I think we’re doing good for a dry-land team.”

Carmichael, though, didn’t have to find a new team.

The Grand Valley Youth Hockey Association (GVYHA) is fielding teams in five of the six age divisions this season. Only the high school ‘Midget’ team is not playing this season.

Despite the lack of a home ice arena and the travel issues, interest in playing hasn’t dropped off much.

The average roster has 13 players, down from an average of 15 last year.

“It’s a good number,” GVYHA Director Curt Maki said. “They get a lot of ice time. We’d like to have 15, but it’s not too much of a drop-off. The competitive-end kids want to play and the parents, I can’t say enough. They drive the kids five hours (to and from) for practice.”

The all-girls Grand Valley youth team, Grand Valley Thunder, is back this season with 13 players.

“The first time we skated this year, it was almost like remembering your first love,” Thunder coach Johnny Golden said.

With no home ice rink, there won’t be many opportunities for the team to play.

The Thunder have six games scheduled for the season at this point. They had close to 20 last year.

“If we would’ve had our rink, we would’ve gone from an average team to a competitive one and pushed for our division,” Golden said. “This year, we had to scale it back. We’re trying to make it enjoyable. If we’re not practicing regularly, it’s hard to see improvement.”

The bantam (14-under), pee wee (12-under) and squirt (10-under) teams were able to get more than 20 games each — all on the road. Some of the games are ‘home’ games, which means the GVYHA will have to pay the ice rink rental fee and the game officials. That money comes out of the player registration fee. Each player’s fee is $380, Maki said, down significantly from the past because the association doesn’t have to pay Glacier’s rental fee.

“We do a lot of traveling to rinks,” Maki said. “We buy ice time and drive up to Craig on the weekends. I’m booking time in Vernal (Utah) for the pee wee team. We’ll practice on Friday and play two games on Saturday. We skate every weekend possible.”

The teams practice and play on weekends in Craig, Glenwood Springs, Vail, Vernal, Utah, and Durango. During the week, the teams have dry land practices at places like Canyon View Park or in school gymnasiums.

“It does (affect it),” squirts coach Tyler Bittner said. “We have to be very cautious how much time we spend on breakouts (drills). You have to use every square inch of the ice to get the most out of it. We’re getting up at 5:30 (a.m. on Saturdays) to go to Craig.

“You try to supplement fun stuff to keep the kids engaged and have fun. They are still at the age they need that. We’re not on the ice as much as other teams so conditioning becomes a factor. Now when we get on the ice, we can spend time working on fundamentals.”

The Junior Mavs pee wee coach, Scott Carmichael, said he is trying to make up for the lack of ice time in other ways.

“It’s tough without playing on ice,” he said. “The kids need to develop their skills. They need to be on their skates. It’s not like we can still go to the park and learn in our tennis shoes. What we’re doing is trying to focus on other skills like stick-handling, position play, shooting.”

The first four weekends the Junior Mavs would drive to Craig, practice for two hours and come back the same day.

They won two games against Craig the opening weekend and reached the final of the Drop the Puck Tournament in Gunnison.

“I have a feeling it will catch up with us,” Carmichael said. “Everybody is just getting back on the ice. Throughout the season, we’re going to see teams improve. They’re skating and we’re going to have a difficult time. That’s our challenge. We’ll try to overcome by raising our abilities elsewhere.”

The future of the association, though, is in danger unless the rink reopens.

“One of the biggest glaring problems is getting new kids in the program,” Maki said. “The Mites had 30 last year. This year, we have 12. It’s tough committing to long trips.”

The Mites (8-under) were non-traveling teams in the past. This season, the team is playing one Jamboree a month at various sites on the Western Slope.

Glacier’s status for next winter is in limbo, but that’s not keeping the teams from playing this season.


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