Oak Creek Hockey Association player Stephen Heron, right, passes the puck to assistant coach Drew Moon during a warm-up at a practice Thursday evening.

Photo by Zach Fridell

Oak Creek Hockey Association player Stephen Heron, right, passes the puck to assistant coach Drew Moon during a warm-up at a practice Thursday evening.

Ice rink hub of Oak Creek activity

Skate lessons, hockey leagues pack open-air rink that opened Dec. 3 with 5 inches of ice

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Oak Creek Hockey Association player Jacob Hange skates with the puck during a warm-up before practice at the Oak Creek Ice Rink on Thursday evening.

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For more information about the Oak Creek Hockey Association visit www.oakcreekhocke..., or call rink manager Nikki Knoebel at 846-2083.

— From Steamboat Springs, Grand Lake, Kremmling and Stagecoach, the players piled onto the ice at the Oak Creek Ice Rink on Thursday evening in temperatures that already were minus 2 at 6:30 p.m.

The players, in the inaptly named Midgets program, were high school students in a competitive league that calls Oak Creek a half-time home in a program that is split with Kremmling.

Assistant coach Pete Hange took the kids through the drills, skating across the open-air rink in a practice that he said would probably last an hour and a half — slightly shorter than usual because of the extreme cold.

The ice at the Oak Creek rink is shared by the learn-to-skate programs, hockey leagues, open skate time and, later this month, Santa Claus as the Oak Creek Hockey Association ramps up usage of the covered facility.

The town facility is maintained by the hockey association during the winter and opened Dec. 3 with more than 5 inches of ice.

“For a town of this size to have a facility like this is amazing, and I don’t think a lot of people recognize that,” said Nikki Knoebel, who was selected by the hockey association as a part-time rink manager this year. As the manager, Knoebel is working to rent out the ice and arrange for more activities throughout the winter, starting with a recreational hockey league.

The league will not require players to travel or commit to intensive schedules, but it will allow the players to stay in town and scrimmage.

Along the same lines, the rink hosts a free weekly adult drop-in hockey game each Friday from 8:30 to 10 p.m. Knoebel said at one game last year, about 30 adults showed up to fill the rink.

For 16-year-old Jacob Hange, son of assistant coach Pete Hange, it’s also a chance to continue playing the game he has for 14 years.

“I’m the only Oak Creek player left at this age level,” Jacob Hange said.

By combining forces with Kremmling players, the group can create a full team that travels across the Western Slope. Jacob Hange said he’s seen an improvement in the ice throughout the years, as the rink was roofed in 2005 and the quality of the ice improved.

“That also cools down the ice so it’s here for longer,” he said.

The facility also attracted Claire Tarcha’s son, Thomas. Originally from Florida, Thomas Tarcha is working his way through the Steamboat Springs High School’s developmental hockey team as a goalie, but he wanted to play on the Oak Creek team to get some more time on the ice.

Claire Tarcha said the leagues in Steamboat also were more expensive, with fees for a season at about $1,200. In Oak Creek, she said she paid $260.

The facility also is hosting free public skate times every day, and the facility has dozens of pairs of donated ice skates available for rental. Knoebel said although free skate is scheduled only during certain times each day, the rink really is available any time of the day that lessons or practice aren’t taking place. She said the lights on the facility generally will be on into the evening in case people would like to skate.

On Dec. 20, Santa will take to the ice, too, with free family ice skating and hot chocolate from 2 to 3:30 p.m., and a visit from Santa at 2:30 p.m.

For more information about the facility and its programs, visit the Oak Creek Hockey Association Web site at www.oakcreekhockey.org.

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