LITTLETON — The sound of wood slapping asphalt echoes down a quiet neighborhood street.
Three children and their parents are sprinting in sneakers after an orange ball. It’s rolling in the empty road between a pair of large red plastic nets set roughly 40 feet apart. Their voices are rising.
Don’t let the old man take you! Are you going to count that? Car is coming! Timeout!
Brian and Lindsay Amos walk their kids to a nearby sidewalk as the vehicle drives past on a warm June weekday. Their daughters — Izzy, 13, and Charli, 9 — and son, Jacoby, 11, practically lived at their local rink, Edge Ice Arena, before the coronavirus pandemic hit. This street-hockey haven is the next best thing.
“It’s still fun because you’re still playing hockey — kind of,” Jacob said.
Added Izzy: “I’d much rather play on the ice.”
Then again, the Amos family doesn’t blame just COVID-19 for missing the ice. Rinks across the Front Range began re-opening this month with small groups following local health authority guidelines. But not for Jacoby or his Foothills Hockey Association teammates at their home rink.
That’s because the FHA saw their contract with the Edge terminated this spring after 17 years as a tenant, leaving more than 200 kids without a home rink. You can spot the disappointment on Jacoby’s face, especially after his season was canceled right before the state tournament semifinals.
The Amos family hasn’t returned to the Edge since.
“It stinks,” Jacoby said. “It’s boring because most of the time, before, we were at the ice rink doing stuff. Now, we’re stuck here.”
It’s the fallout of a two-pronged problem for many hockey families and beer-league players alike in the Denver metro: 1. Not enough ice sheets to accommodate Colorado’s growing hockey culture. 2. Lacking transparency from city officials who decide who gets to skate.
Edge Ice Arena, run by the Foothills Parks and Recreation District, stunned the FHA when the district served it with a notice of a May 31 contract termination date. Their Edge residency was replaced by another local club: the Littleton Hockey Association. FHA program director Gabe Gauthier said he was “not given an opportunity to discuss or negotiate for ice” prior to the notice.
Foothills Parks and Recreation did not respond to a request for comment from The Post, however, its executive director Ronald Hopp told CBS Denver in March that FHA’s eviction was due in part to “maximizing revenues.”
But why must the growth of one local hockey organization come at the potential demise of another?
Big picture: The availability of Front Range ice-time often does not meet the demand.
“Ice here feels like a commodity because there is only so much of it,” Brian Amos said. “We’re just fighting for every little scrap we can get.”
In an average year, there are anywhere between 9,000 and 12,000 active members of the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association, said CAHA president Randy Kanai. Compare that to CAHA’s estimated total number of ice rinks (with at least one sheet) currently across the state: 43.
The concentration is highest in the Denver metro with only about 15 ice rinks for thousands of skaters.
Tyson Davis is the director of the Hyland Hills Hockey Association out of Westminster, which has youth league membership of close to 600. Their home rink, the Ice Centre at the Promenade, is a rarity with three NHL-sized ice sheets. Although, if a fourth were added with a complete hockey schedule, Davis said, “We could probably fill it overnight.”
“The better the Avalanche are doing, the more interest we get,” Davis said. “Every time they win a playoff game, we’d get a few phone calls on how to play hockey. In the Stanley Cup years, it was off the charts where we were full to capacity. At one time I think we had 300 kids on the waitlist.
“We could easily use a handful of more rinks, especially with the popularity and where ice sports are going. But it’s costly. There are a lot of moving parts.”
Progress arrives in December when the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District is expected to open a new $61 million complex in Littleton featuring three sheets of ice — replacing a 50-year-old facility with only two sheets. The vast majority of active ice rinks in Colorado, though, were still built prior to the Avalanche coming to town in 1995.
Jason Schofield in the Avalanche’s director of amateur hockey development which provides statewide resources and camp offerings for youth skaters. Recognizing the challenge and cost of getting ice time, Schofield pushes initiatives for after-school roller hockey programs that teach similar concepts without the ice hassle. Many rinks have also expanded their recreational offerings with pick-up “lunch leagues” as an alternative to often late-night puck drops for adult games.
“We started in Colorado as one of the smaller hockey markets and have taken some giant steps,” Schofield said. “Which makes it hard because you do run into these situations where you have organizations competing for buildings and ice. On one hand, you’ve got to be trusted and a best friend with everybody. On the other hand, you’ve got to take care of your own backyard.”
A current silver lining: Colorado’s hockey culture is rising quickly from the ashes of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We sold out every one of our programs, and this is no exaggeration, in under three minutes,” said Davis at the Ice Centre in Westminster. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. The same thing is happening at rinks everywhere.”
The joy of hockey has also returned on the street outside the Amos residence. Rules are different here, like when mom shifts to “all-time offense” or how dad can’t take shots from “far away.” Laughter is the top priority.
There is some family debate over which team leads after the car-initiated timeout. The ball drops, and suddenly, the ice-time saga that’s stained their hockey experience can fade.
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