Youth Hockey Continues To See Growth In Colorado As Avalanche Head To Stanley Cup Final – CBS Denver

CENTENNIAL, Colorado (CBS4) – There was a lot going on on the ice during the Colorado Thunderbirds Summer Skate at the Family Sports Center in Centennial. Dad Vince Africano watched through the glass.

“Oh, it’s totally worth it. my son loves it 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 out here than at school,” Africano said.

His son played with the Pee Wee group and the competition was fierce. Hockey was a great thing, even on the long drives from Evergreen to Denver, sometimes in the very early hours.

“It’s a lot easier to get him out for hockey than it is 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 Finals, is big in the hockey world no matter where it happens and will likely garner more interest as well, said Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey.

“In this market in the US, participation will skyrocket next year thanks to the Stanley Cup race,” said Kelleher.

Hockey has grown massively in Colorado since the Avs arrived. USA Hockey, a national organization that oversees hockey programs, represents many hockey programs in the state, but not all. Five years before the Avalanche arrived from Quebec City in 1990-91, 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 coming back almost to pre-pandemic levels.

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

At Rocky Mountain Hockey Schools, executive director Bryan Smith says nine summer camp sessions are full and on the waiting list. A parent tried to circumvent it.

“I had a parent who was currently on our waiting list. And they said, ‘Hey, can you take us off the waiting list? I’ll pay you double.” And I thought that was pretty funny because it was the first time in my 19 years as a hockey coach that anyone had offered anything like that,” Smith said.

Participation has increased in many different categories. Girls hockey is a big growth area.

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

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

Last season was their best so far. “62 points,” she volunteered.

Hockey knows it has some problems to solve. Minority participation is influenced by the location of the ice rinks – of which there are too few.

“So we really need to focus at the grassroots level on how to invite people of color into our game. How can we make it more welcoming and diverse, but it keeps growing, even like some other sport slides. Even parents are benefiting,” Kelleher said.

“In the car with your kid, it’s time to go to hockey. It’s not just about putting down on the corner court and then taking off. you have to be there When you’re younger you have to tie your skates. You have to help them get dressed. I would do anything for my son and he loves this sport,” said Africano.

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