Hockey hits 'saturation level'
Chugiak-Eagle River’s love of hockey has created a problem — the community doesn’t have enough ice support any additional teams.
“We are pretty much at the saturation level,” Mustangs Hockey Association office manager Molly Gray said.
If MHA’s numbers remain constant — as they have the past five years — another rink will be needed to alleviate the demand on the McDonald Center, Gray said.
“If we’re going to continue to develop our players, we’re going to need more ice,” she said.
Heather Plucinski is spearheading the project. Plucinski, who heads the future planning committee, which was created by MHA’s volunteer board of directors, said the community needs another rink for practices.
“The main problem is that we just need another sheet that’s reliable to schedule practices on,” Plucinski said. “I don’t think anybody is envisioning anything like the Mac.”
The project is in the beginning stages, and Plucinski said she’s hoping to raise awareness and interest in it.
“The word on the street is people think it’s needed,” she said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we have to start somewhere.”
Plucinski said a no-frills rink, like the outdoor ConocoPhillips rink in Kenai, would suit the needs of Chugiak-Eagle River.
The rink would have to be covered, Gray said. The outdoor ice at Gruening and Mirror Lake middle schools that MHA “House” teams use aren’t reliable because they lack a roof, Gray said.
“You cannot count right now on the outdoor ice,” she said.
Gray said MHA has gained 30 players since last year. Though its numbers have stayed consistent, MHA is fielding more competitive teams, she said.
“How we’ve allocated out sheets to our players has changed a lot,” Gray said. “House teams are getting more ice to help with their development.”
Those House players then feed into the Competition teams, Gray said.
Competition teams receive the most ice time for practice, Gray said. Comp teams skate four times a week, Tier III teams skate three times a week and Tier IV teams skate twice a week, she said.
MHA also has three Lady Mustangs teams, Gray said.
Currently, MHA has three Comp teams — Squirt, PeeWee and Bantam. Though MHA doesn’t have a Midget team, it will as the younger players get older, Gray said.
MHA also has an initiation program for 4-to-6-year-olds. Right now, three teams of Atoms and Mini-Mites share one Olympic-size sheet at the Mac, Gray said.
Contracting to Anchorage
Building another rink would enable MHA to release its contracts with other rinks, Gray said. MHA currently has contracts with the Palmer Ice Arena and three Anchorage rinks — Ben Boeke Ice Arena, Dempsey-Anderson Ice Arena and the University of Alaska Anchorage, Gray said.
MHA typically only takes sheets at the Mac and Palmer, Gray said, but since the Junior A program Alaska Avalanche moved to Palmer at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, ice has been scarce in the Valley.
Hockey isn’t the only sport using ice at the Mac.
As a municipal rink, the Mac is obligated to provide sheets to figure skating, speed skating and open skates to the public, Gray said.
“Everyone is fighting for ice,” she said. “If we’re going to continue to grow our players and keep them competitive with the teams in Anchorage and the rest of the state, we’ll need more ice.”
The Mac is also home to Chugiak, Eagle River and Bartlett High hockey. Those three boys Cook Inlet Conference teams — along with the Chugiak-Eagle River girls team — typically play home games at the Mac, and other CIC teams also use the facility. On Nov. 11, the Mac served as home ice to Service, which hosted visiting Soldotna.
High school hockey takes precedence over MHA, Gray said. Should a game be cancelled, the Anchorage School District has the right to bump MHA time slots to reschedule it, Gray said, though it rarely happens.
When MHA formed in 1983, its board of directors stated in their mission they supported a second sheet of ice for Chugiak-Eagle River, Gray said. The board raised funds through donations and sponsorships for additional ice, she said.
Gray declined to say how much was raised, but she said the money remains in an account waiting to be used to help build a second sheet of ice.
“That’s always been the intent of those funds,” Gray said.
Open to options
Whether it’s working with the municipality to build a public rink or fund a private one, Plucinski said the group is open to all options.
“We’re interested in any possibility,” she said.
The challenge will be securing money and finding land for more ice, Plucinski said. If funds are found, there are several hockey parents in the construction business eager to lend a hand, she said.
“Many, many people are willing to donate their expertise and time,” Plucinski said. “I think the Eagle River community can put this together.”
A mother of two MHA players, Plucinski wants the project completed in the coming years.
“I’m hoping by the time my Mini-Mite is a PeeWee there’s another practice sheet available,” she said.
“We do have enough demand for another practice sheet,” Plucinski said. “Even if the numbers change some, that will still be the case.”
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or [email protected]