Steamboat Springs Although only half of Oak Creek's ice rink was fit for skating Tuesday, Oak Creek Hockey Association President Tim Corrigan and a few hockey players couldn't resist etching the first skate marks of the season into the 1 ½-inch thick ice.
"When the boys showed up, we decided that we would just walk out there to practice our shooting, but we decided it was good enough to skate on, so we strapped on our skates, and that was the first time anyone had ever skated in that rink in November," Corrigan said.
In years past, the rink has opened to hockey practice and public skate in December, when conditions often were better for maintaining the rink's 4- to 6-inch-thick sheet of ice.
But with a new roof covering the rink, Corrigan and other coaches and volunteers were able to start flooding the rink Nov. 19 without worrying about the sun melting the ice during the day.
"Until we had that roof, the earliest we ever had ice was Dec. 20. The sun would melt the ice, and we would also have to remove the snow on the rink if it had snowed before, just so we could even start flooding it," he said. "That's been the big ticket, that roof."
Corrigan said construction of the roof was the last phase in a three-part plan that included installing a warming hut, an asphalt slab, a concrete foundation and, finally, the roof.
Most of the construction materials and labor were donated.
"This project has been a minimal taxpayer investment, but if you look at our rink and add up the numbers, we have at least a $750,000 facility here that we're very happy with," Corrigan said.
While the new roof allows for early ice making, Corrigan said the rink's new lighting will make a significant difference in the visibility on the ice. The rink has 30 lights illuminating the ice; there was only a giant floodlight previously.
With the rink's ice sheet well on its way to completion, Corrigan planned to apply the ice dye this weekend, in addition to making the rink's lines, face-off circles and goal creases.
Waiting for the ice to be completed has meant Oak Creek Hockey Association practices have been in Craig the past few weeks, association Vice President Charlene Regan said. South Routt families are eager to begin practicing at the Oak Creek rink next week.
"It's amazing how many younger kids we have signed up this year for our program, which is great, because once you get into hockey, you never leave," she said.
In the 4- to 5-year-old age group, enrollment has doubled from last year. Corrigan said there are about 50 children ages 4 to 18 enrolled to play this season. That's nearly 13 percent of the South Routt School District's 400-student enrollment.
"That's a huge number for us," he said.
Regan said having an ice rink in Oak Creek is crucial to many children in South Routt County, not just those who live in Oak Creek. There's often little else to do other than skate in the winter.
"Hockey is what we do instead of skiing," Corrigan said. "For the most part, these are kids who wouldn't be able to anything else otherwise."
Corrigan said he is proud to be able to provide affordable hockey to South Routt youths.
"We're fond of saying that since we got the ice rink, we haven't had any drive-by shootings," he said with a laugh.
Regan's 10-year-old son, Matthew, has played hockey for the past five years and is happy to be a part of the program.
"(Hockey) is pretty much my favorite sport because I like to skate. It's the only thing I have to do in the winter, because I don't ski or snowboard," he said.
Charlene Regan thinks getting involved in the hockey program is good for parents, too, because of how involved everyone becomes in the sport and the association.
"Our program is definitely growing, and it's good to get the kids involved because they get to know the other players over the years. They grow up together," she said. "We always have so much to do, that everyone has to help."
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