Puck drops in Oak Creek

Hockey players skate on one of northern Colorado's last outdoor rinks


— There are no road signs pointing to the ice rink, but down a short maze of side streets lies the pulse of wintertime Oak Creek.

Tucked in the arm of a high dirt embankment is one of the last outdoor ice rinks in northern Colorado -- home of the Oak Creek Kodiaks.

On Friday, the ice was littered with hockey pucks and 17-year-old Mike Werner, home for Christmas break, was practicing shots off the boards.

Inside the warming hut, Tim Corrigan was on his knees threading the nets onto the new hockey goals. A few volunteers dropped by while he was working to make sure the building was clean and ready for the weekend -- the first day of hockey season for the Kodiaks.

Volunteers started working at the rink in the fall.

Broken Plexiglas was replaced. All of the kids who play hockey came out with rollers and highway paint to cover the surface of the rink before it was flooded.

The Zamboni also got a new engine.

Oak Creek has five youth teams for players who range in age from just being old enough to swing a hockey stick to high school seniors.

"For a lot of kids it's too expensive or too far to ski," Corrigan said. "Hockey has become the winter sport of choice around here."

Teams practice two nights a week, with coaches certified by USA Hockey.

The Kodiaks play in the Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League against Steamboat Springs, Kremmling, Craig, Summit County, Glenwood Springs, Vail, Eagle, Gunnison, Crested Butte, Telluride and Vernal, Utah.

"I think when people come here for games, they are enthralled by the chance to play outdoors," Corrigan said.

The only other outdoor rinks in the league are in Telluride and Kremmling, he said.

Seeing what the town's hockey program has become, it's hard to believe that less than 10 years ago, the rink was nothing but a forgotten vacant lot.

In 1994, a group that included Craig Haverly, Clyde Iacovetto, Tom Spicer and Carol Montoya went to the Town Board and asked for use of a town-owned lot on Arthur Street.

The town let them use the lot and donated $3,000 to their efforts. The group bought 4x4s and plywood to build a rough oval wall.

"We flooded it and started playing hockey," Corrigan said.

The next year, Oak Creek formed a league and began playing against Steamboat, Kremmling and Summit County.

"We didn't have uniforms yet," Werner said. "I played in my dad's turtleneck and rented a helmet for $10."

Before the rink opened, Werner was inspired to play hockey by the movie "The Mighty Ducks." After the movie, Mike Werner and his brother cleaned snow off the pond and played each other with willow sticks, he said.

Now he plays hockey for his boarding school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, and plans to play in college.

"Hockey is really good for the kids in Oak Creek," Werner said. "It gives them something to do outside of school."

In the first years of the rink, players changed in an open shed, Werner said.

"I can remember huddling around this little heater to keep warm," he said.

In 1997, the group secured their first Great Outdoors Colorado grant and collected donations from the community to build a warming hut complete with changing rooms and bathrooms.

In 1998, the town of Oak Creek bought the group a Zamboni to clean the ice, on the condition that the hockey league pay back the cost over five years. The group made their last payment in 2002.

The town of Oak Creek pays the electric bills for the rink and the building. Otherwise, league fees plus hours of volunteer time helps to cover the costs.

In 2000, GOCo gave the Oak Creek Kodiaks another grant to complete the rink itself. The group put down a concrete footing around the perimeter of the rink, laid an asphalt surface and replaced the plywood walls with dasher boards and Plexiglas windows.

Now that the hockey program is off the ground, Oak Creek resident Dave Fisher wants to take the ice rink one step further by opening official public skating hours.

The rink is open to the public anytime it is not being used by the Kodiaks, but Fisher hopes to provide groomed ice and adult supervision six times a week at regularly scheduled times.

The building will be open and the lights will be on.

"I view this as an underutilized community resource," Fisher said, "and I want people to use it who don't necessarily play hockey."

The public skating hours will be posted at the rink as soon as Monday, Fisher said.

"Dave is a volunteer," Corrigan said. "Public skating will be available to Oak Creek at no cost to the user or to the town."


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