Youth hockey continues to grow in Colorado as Avalanche head to Stanley Cup Final – CBS Denver

CENTENNIAL, Colorado (CBS4) –Things were busy on the ice during the Colorado Thunderbirds’ summer skate at the Family Sports Center in Centennial. Papa Vince Africano was looking through the window.

“Oh, so worth it. My son loves this. When he’s not on the ice, he just wants to be on the ice. And all his friends are on the ice. He has more friends here than at school,” Africano said.

His son was playing with the Pee Wee band and the competition was tough. Hockey has been a big thing, even with the long drives from Evergreen to Denver, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.

“It’s a lot easier to get him out for hockey than for school. I’ll tell you right away. Everyone is so excited to see the Avs where they are right now,” Africano said.

The Avalanche reaching the Stanley Cup Final is big in the hockey world, no matter where it happens, and is also likely to generate more interest, said Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey.

“In that market in the United States, the following year, participation will increase thanks to the Stanley Cup race,” Kelleher said.

Hockey developed enormously in Colorado before the arrival of the Avs. USA Hockey, a national organization that oversees hockey programs, represents many hockey programs in the state, but not all. Five years before the arrival of the Quebec Avalanche in 1990-1991, there were 3,854 players in Colorado. By 2021-22, that number had risen to 15,547. And that’s after a significant drop amid the pandemic. But players are almost returning to pre-pandemic levels.

“Obviously we’ve had more rinks that have developed not just in Denver, in the mountain towns, in CO Springs. So there’s more access for people to play the game,” Kelleher said.

At Rocky Mountain Hockey Schools, general manager Bryan Smith says nine summer camp sessions are full and on a waitlist. A parent tried to circumvent it.

“I had a relative who was on our waiting list right now. And they said, ‘Hey, can you take us off the waiting list? I’ll pay you double. And I thought that’ was kind of funny because it was the first time in 19 years of hockey coaching that someone offered that,” Smith said.

Participation increased in many different categories. Women’s hockey has been a big growth area.

“I thought she would play lacrosse, but she chose hockey. And it’s going well,” said Commerce City mom Tara Johnson, who drove her daughter to the Edge Ice Arena in Littleton. His ten-year-old daughter Nikki has now been playing for six years.

“It’s a bit far from home but I love all my friends on my team,” Nikki said.

Last season was his best yet. “62 points,” she volunteered.

Hockey knows it has issues to deal with. The participation of minorities is affected by the location of the ice rinks – which are too few.

“So we really need to focus locally on how we can bring people of color into our game. How can we make it more welcoming, more diverse, but it continues to grow even as some other sports slip. Even the parents benefit,” Kelleher said.

“There is still time in the car with your child to go to hockey. It’s not just about landing on the corner field and then taking off. You must be there. At a younger age, you have to lace up your skates. You have to help dress them. I would do anything for my son and he loves this sport,” Africano said.

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