West Lake turns into hockey rink

Ethan Cloutier enjoys a little free ice time while trying to score on his son Carter, 7, at the Westlake State Wildlife Area.

Firefighters typically discourage people from playing on ice, but they made an exception Sunday.

Members of the Grand Junction Fire Department staged an informal hockey game Sunday on the frozen pond at West Lake State Wildlife Area.

Before the Fire Department used West Lake, it secured the necessary permits from the Colorado Division of Wildlife, which supervises the use of the lake, said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton.

On Saturday, members of the Fire Department sprayed water on West Lake as part of a certification exercise. Figuring all the water from Saturday’s exercise would turn into ice by Sunday, fireman Ben Blehm thought it would be fun to slap the puck around.

He was right.

“I haven’t done this since I was 16,” Matt Carson said as he slung his hockey bag over his shoulder. Carson, who “took a partial day off” to play, grew up outside Chicago.

During the winter, temperatures often were cold enough in northeastern Illinois to freeze entire ponds, but he hadn’t had the chance to play outdoor hockey since joining the Fire Department 17 years ago.

In fact, Sunday’s hockey game looked a little like the childhood games of Carson’s past. There were no pads or referees. The goals were no bigger than 2 feet wide, making goalies unnecessary.

The exterior walls of the frozen pond were mounds of snow, and the bench area where coaches typically sat was instead reserved for children or spouses.

For the safety of the children and spouses, as well as the players, Blehm took certain precautions at West Lake before Sunday’s game.

He checked the ice depth, which based on a math equation he knew, had to be thicker than 6 inches to support up to two tons of weight in a concentrated area, Blehm said. Ice only 2 inches thick can support no more than 200 pounds.

“We drilled and didn’t hit water at 6 inches, and I knew there wouldn’t be two tons of weight in one area at one time,” Blehm said.

He and others took extra precautions in case of a crack.

“We have a couple rescue lines over there,” Blehm said.

Firefighters and their entourages then walked onto the ice with sleds, coolers and other things necessary for a fun day.

Jessica Blehm, Ben’s wife, brought a gingerbread house kit to preoccupy children.

Abby Blehm, 3, put one piece of candy on the frosting for every two she ate.

Before Nathaniel Blehm, 5, and Chloe Thompson, 5, took off to play on the ice, Nathaniel stuck a peppermint candy into the frosting for a chimney.

“We should tell Dad when he’s done to come check out our gingerbread house,” Nathaniel told his mother.

Ben Blehm stopped playing hockey long enough Sunday to catch his breath and applaud his son for a decorating job well-done.

Granted, none of the firefighters could skate like professional hockey players. But they had the stamina to rival top athletes.

“Oh,” Blehm said, “this is great exercise.”


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