With Glacier re-opening, Colorado Mesa hockey team finally has a place to call home
At one time, the Colorado Mesa University hockey program was dead.
Glacier Ice Arena was closed for three years because of a faulty refrigeration system, and during that time many CMU students in the hockey program left. But a core group of players dedicated to getting their degrees stayed, and they kept the program alive, even if it was a minimal existence.
“It’s just the love of the game is the only thing that’s kept this alive at all,” Mavericks junior Charlie Barnum said. “We’ve had a strong core of guys that have kept it together.”
The rink reopened nearly two months ago, and the Mavericks are playing their first home games since the 2009-10 season.
“It’s crazy (that) it’s up this year,” CMU junior Phil Flink said. “I never anticipated it being up this year.”
The Mavericks don’t have many games scheduled this year because the schedule was done before it was announced Glacier would reopen, but they do host a tournament at Glacier Ice Arena next weekend. Seven teams are expected to come from the region, CMU coach Matt Meiring said.
The Mavericks (1-6-1) have home games against Metro State and the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs scheduled in early February. Mesa plays in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division III.
“As far as full seasons have gone, that hasn’t always been there,” Meiring said. “Last year, we played a full season, but it was all on the road.”
The Mavericks played five games in the 2011-12 season. They played their home games the past few years in Eagle.
Hockey is in the blood of several of the Mesa players.
Barnum grew up playing hockey at the local ice rink in Rock Springs, Wyo.
He started skating around with a stick and puck before he was old enough to go to school.
When he graduated high school in 2010, he wanted to continue playing hockey, but he decided to attend Colorado Mesa even though Glacier Ice Arena was closed and the CMU hockey season was lost.
“I had some offers from other schools, but Colorado Mesa had a construction management program,” Barnum said. “That’s why I decided to come here.
“I intended on playing, but that’s not why I came here. It was weird going from skating every day to never having ice. It was tough.”
Flink grew up playing hockey as a young boy at South Suburban Rink in Littleton.
“I was originally going to Fort Lewis (out of high school), but I had a friend coming here, and he convinced me to come here,” Flink said. “The waiting was worth it.”
Flink’s first year, the team played about a half-dozen games and had 11 guys on the bench with the five starters.
Flink said it was worth getting up before dawn in the middle of winter to play hockey.
“It sucked, but it was worth it,” Flink said. “Eventually, we knew this would happen, so we had to make the most of it.
“Ice rinks are good for the community. It was running once and knew it would run again. It was just a matter of time. People were interested and made the effort to make it happen.”
Cole Sweeny started ice skating before he started school and started playing hockey a couple of years later.
He came to Colorado Mesa for school, but he is thankful for the hockey program.
“Everyone here (on the team) are good buddies,” Sweeny said. “We love to play. I couldn’t give up on it now. That’s the same with a lot of guys.”
Barnum and other players wanted so much to play, they would practice at 5:30 in the morning at a small, outdoor rink the past two years.
“During Christmas break, we’d get six or seven of us and just go play,” Barnum said. “That was our best time, when it’s not serious and just the love of the game.
“It’s been a roller coaster for sure.”
Last season, the team practiced twice a week on a small, outdoor ice area on Third Avenue, off North Avenue.
“We did what we could there, but with the conditions of the ice, it wasn’t ideal,” Meiring said. “There were days I didn’t know if we’d have practice.”
Meiring said the number of players doubled in the past year even before they knew Glacier would re-open. The second-year coach has 26 players on the roster this season.
“It’s one of those sports, if you played it since you were 5 or 6 years old, it is tough to walk away from,” Meiring said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a passion for a sport with people involved.”
There are a number of players from various parts of the region in the program, but most of them are from the Front Range. One player is from Alaska.
“It’s been cool, knowing I have eligibility left and we can focus on getting a good hockey team out there,” Barnum said. “This is probably the best team for Mesa to ever hit the ice. From what I hear before I was here, this is the best team skill-wise.”
“I’m so glad to get to keep playing,” Flink said. “I’ve got two years left and want to make the most of it. I want to play hockey my whole life.
“I know a lot of kids back home, they’ve seen we put a lot of effort into keeping this place going.”