If you build it they will come but I’m not sure the organizers of Red Deer Pond Hockey were expecting this sort of growth.
At last count there were more than 700 kids from the City and surrounding towns hitting the ice as part of the association according to first year president Jason Chilibeck.
Registration fees are $100 per child and there is no paid staff involved with the league, relying instead on a hard working and dedicated group of volunteers.
The season gets going each year at the beginning of October wrapping up near the end of March and Chilibeck said it’s a common misconception the league has all its games on outdoor ice.
“We’ll use the Dawe, Collicutt, Kinex, Kinsmen and Penhold,” he said about taking ice time indoors where they can get it.
Back in the beginning of the no-hit league which caters to kids aged six to 17, an outdoor rink was cobbled together just west of Kin Kanyon park and then the league would hold its season on a rink of its own.
The rink has since become a permanent fixture and practices for the 40 plus teams are held there throughout the season.
“We have one ice time inside a week and then once the outdoor ice is in then we’ll have one practice outdoors a week.”
Because of the rapid expansion of the league over the years pond hockey is now taking advantage of the outdoor rinks run by the City in various communities.
“It’s a huge effort,” he said. “From a City perspective, with the City going out and cleaning rinks and keeping those maintained we’ve been able to deploy children to rinks and use the rinks.
“I know for myself and for pond hockey we’re very appreciative.”
When minor hockey has the rinks booked solid then Chilibeck said that’s when they take to the outdoor ice in order to have a tournament, generally twice in the season.
“So however it might work out we might have one game indoors and two games outside on a weekend,” he said.
The strong relationship with the City really comes through on those weekends as staff will be out scraping and clearing the ice, he said.
The main focus of the league is to get players who want to play the game but maybe the commitment to the minor hockey regimen isn’t for them. Chilibeck said there may be times when a parent calls to say they can’t make a game and he tells them not to worry, the team will make due.
“Nobody is making a check mark to see if you are making all the games,” he said.
The success of the league might be its biggest hurdle in allowing more kids to play because the effort is there to limit team roster so the players can get plenty of ice time.
Chilibeck, who also coaches a team, added if he has a player who is just learning to skate he might leave him out on the ice when there is a line change.
“Even if he’s not in the play he’s still getting ice time.”
He said any more growth for the league would likely be based on just what sort of ice time there is around the City and out in Penhold as well but Chilibeck said it’s just about having fun for these kids.
“We just want children to get into a sport, have some sort of physical activity, something that can be enjoyable that they will come back to.”