Hockey takes center ice at Howelsen

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How could hockey survive, let alone grow in a town famous for its champagne powder, storied ski jumps and Olympic skiers like Buddy Werner.

But today, hockey is as much a part of winter in Steamboat Springs as skiing and snowboarding.

Thanks to the efforts of the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association, the Learn to Skate programs, drop-in hockey and several adult hockey leagues, hockey has earned a place in Steamboat's long list of winter activities.

It's estimated that hockey uses about 58 percent of the ice time at Howelsen Ice Arena and brings in roughly 60 percent of the revenue.

Just about every day of the week hockey players use the ice and finding a weekend game is never difficult. The arena's public skating sessions, which are normally supported by hockey players and figure skaters, account for 22 percent of the ice time. Figure skating uses about 12 percent of the time.

In Steamboat Springs, most young players pursue the game as part of the Springs Youth Hockey Association.

The association was officially formed in 1993 and has grown to 15 teams and 225 to 250 players.

Teams range from the mites program for players younger than 8 to the midget level for high school players.

The Steamboat teams play in the Continental Divide Youth Hockey League, and play games starting in October and ending in March.

Steamboat is also home to several girls teams, which play during the winter in the 12-and-younger, 14-and-younger and 19-and-younger age classes.

"We offer opportunities for players on both paths," said Tim Anderson, SSYHA president. "We have programs for players who want to be ultra competitive and some for those who may not want to make that kind of commitment."

The SSYHA also hosts several tournaments each year including the Rocky Mountain Rumble Nov. 11-13, the Ski Town Hockey festival the first week of December and a girls tournament in February.

The biggest tournament, the Ski Town Hockey Festival, is a fundraiser for the hockey association. The money is used for scholarships and other programs that make hockey affordable and available to every child in Steamboat Springs.

While the SSYHA programs provide an opportunity for young players to pursue the game of hockey two programs run by the city are responsible for getting children into the game.

The Learn to Skate Initiation to Hockey program is a starting place for young players. The program teaches the basics and teaches young players the skills necessary to play. The Mini-mites is a step between initiation of hockey and the formal Mites league. The SSYHA encourages this level of play before players advance to the formal Mites program.

For the first time this year, the ice arena will offer an eight-week recreational hockey program for middle school athletes.

The program will include coaching and games or practice sessions twice a week in a more laid-back atmosphere. Players will not be required to travel for games and the program will maintain a local flair.

But Christina Freeman, ice arena director, said hockey isn't just for children in Steamboat Springs.

The Howelsen facility also is home to three adult hockey leagues that play from November to March.

Based on ability, players can sign up to play in either the coed B or C leagues. A private party also runs an adult A league at Howelsen.

The arena is also home to four adult traveling teams. The Chix, Storm and Edge women's adult hockey teams call Howelsen home during the winter along with the men's competitive traveling team, the Coyotes.

Freeman said the arena offers drop-in stick and puck handling sessions on Mondays, drop-in for C-D-E level players on Tuesdays and drop-in for A and B level players on Wednesday and Friday.

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