Growing up in Alaska, one of the fondest memories was the endless supply of ice time. The Anchorage School District and city had outdoor rinks with boards set up all over the area, Elementary schools, and the parks. All these rinks had lights, but the best fun was to skate under the moon light.
I'm so old that back then Anchorage had only the one indoor sheet at Ben Boeke. It was not until 1979 that we got that second sheet. High school hockey was the king in Alaska. It was nothing to see over a thousand folks try to stuff the big rink. I also remember the first players that left the last frontier for the USHL. Like big oil, Alaska has over-produced and exported hockey talent ever since.
The Anchorage Hockey Association and Boys Club Bulldogs both made sure that every player that wanted to play could. Money was not a factor in the equation. Both organizations had loaner equipment rooms and programs for economically disadvantaged players. Folks, that was the well.
Hockey has exploded from it's roots. What started out as a community effort to develop prospects has evolved into a dictatorship where everybody in the game is 100% dedicated to one man. Ben Franklin. Yes, money rules American hockey.
Money has also changed the type of players we see in the game. Hockey has become an elitist sport here in the United States. The National Hockey League has teams in almost every major market, but how many youth programs are out there that are 100% funded by the NHL teams in these cities?
Here is where soccer is kicking hockey's ass. Major League Soccer mandates academy programs for every club. The world's top clubs dump cash into prospect development in order to identify talent. Hockey, for the most part, fails in this area over and over.
How do we fix this? It starts with you. Call the local junior or pro team and volunteer. Organize a free learn to skate program for two-year olds. Beg, borrow, or steal ice, skates, lids, sticks, and gloves. Ask the local coach to help. Make him bring his players. Start out with the youngest children, plant the seed, and try to eliminate the barriers along the way.
Give the game back to the kids.
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Stephen Heisler resides in Puerto Penasco with his wife, Maria, and their two children, Sonia and Tomas. Friend him on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/stephen.heisler for more information and pictures from Mexico.