As of today, the Douglas County School District's three hockey programs grapple to reserve an hour to practice at ice rinks located miles away. Ice time is competitive in the Denver metro area and beyond, said the district's Athletic Director Derek Chaney, as high school teams, club teams and adult teams alike all try to book time slots.
Douglas County does not have any indoor ice rinks open today. A South Suburban Parks and Recreation recreational facility with three ice sheets is under construction in Douglas County at East County Line Road and South Holly Street.
Douglas County high school teams presently travel to rinks in Monument and Denver to play and practice.
With limited rink availability, players might practice only two to three times a week, far less when compared to other athletic programs, Chaney said. Sometimes, games aren't held until 8:45 p.m., preferably on Fridays or Saturdays so athletes aren't kept up on school nights.
That's why Chaney was thrilled to hear DAWG Nation, a Littleton-based nonprofit that assists hockey families in times of need, plans to build a $38 million, three-sheet ice rink in Castle Pines. The nonprofit hopes shovels can hit the ground by January 2021.
“To have a facility that's three sheets of ice in central Douglas County, my goodness, we would be ecstatic,” Chaney said. “I cannot tell you how fantastic it would be.”
DAWG Nation President Martin Richardson said they plan for all three rinks in the building to be designed for able-bodied and disabled players to better support youth and adult hockey programs in the area.
“We're trying to solve several problems all at the same time,” he said.
They intend to offer the rink to hockey programs, figure skating, open skate times for the public and for large hockey tournaments. In addition to hosting local programs, they also aim to attract national and international hockey competitions. An event that size might draw up to or more than 1,000 players, Richardson said.
DAWG Nation Executive Director Mike Freeman said a rink designed for disabled players, such as blind athletes or sledding hockey teams, makes a huge difference in their ability to safely get ready in the locker room, get on and off the ice and watch the game from the bench.
One example is ensuring there is not a step up into the bench area when players get off the ice, which hinders disabled players. Adapting a rink after it's built to accommodate all players can be cost-prohibitive, he said.
“All those changes really create a world-class environment for the sled hockey player and the blind hockey player without impacting any other groups,” Freeman said.
The foundation has begun fundraising to build the facility.
“The idea is to now build a hockey rink through the use of donations and grants and naming rights and also in-kind donations,” Richardson said. “The model is to design and build this at almost no cost.”
About 20 companies have stepped up so far. Richardson expects roughly 100 companies will contribute in some way by the time fundraising ends. Once the rink is built, it should generate annual income that DAWG Nation plans to put back toward its mission of helping hockey families in need, he said.
The City of Castle Pines donated 10-acres of city land located on the east side of Interstate 25 and Castle Pines Parkway for the project.
City Manager Michael Penny said the ice rink fell within the city's vision to bring in attractions that are unique from their neighbors, like the outlet mall in Castle Rock, Park Meadows mall in Lone Tree or the Denver Tech Center's office space. With that in mind, the city started thinking about creating “a regional and national recreation destination,” he said.
“There's not enough ice. There's not enough basketball courts. There's not enough tennis,” Penny said. “The big picture was, maybe, if this (ice rink) can come to reality, then word is going to get out.”
The DAWG Nation ice rink could be “the first domino” in building out an area with numerous recreational amenities, he said. Penny said the city would retain the public interest in the land used for the rink and likely issue a long-term lease to DAWG Nation. The land still needs to be rezoned to permit the rink, he said.
“It was an incredible donation and we actually looked at land locations probably all over the Denver area,” Richardson said.
The school district began a hockey program at Mountain Vista High School in 2011, which operates as a co-op with ThunderRidge High School and Highlands Ranch High School.
A couple years later, the district began a program at Castle View High School, which is a co-op with Douglas County High School and Rock Canyon High School. In 2016 the district began its newest hockey program at Chaparral High school, a co-op with Legend High School and Ponderosa High School.
Chaney said the district has not considered adding more hockey programs because of the limited availability of ice rinks and ice time.
“I say that now, but if this Castle Pines thing goes in and we can get more ice time,” he said, “we may look at adding one.”
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