A sizable crowd of adults and children turned out and shared memories, hugs and smiles Sept. 29 during the Littleton Hockey Association 50th anniversary celebration.
Event organizers sought to have a little something for everyone. There was a bounce house for the little ones, games and activities including a hockey goal shoot for young athletes, food, beverages and lots of tables and chairs to just sit and chat about the sport and the association.
“This is a pretty nice event,” Laura Taylor said. “My son keeps talking about wanting to play hockey, a neighbor told me about today’s event and I decided to check it out.”
The Centennial resident said everyone was friendly and helped her answer a lot of questions about youth hockey. She smiled and said her son is excited and, while she hadn’t decided, it is possible she might sign him up for one of the teams.
The ice rink that became the initial home of the Littleton Hockey Association was purchased and brought from Amarillo, Texas, in 1963. It was an outdoor rink originally set up at Arapahoe County Fairgrounds, the site that eventually became Cornerstone Park. South Suburban Ice Arena was built in 1969, and the original outdoor rink equipment was moved to the arena in 1974.
South Suburban Ice Arena and the Ice Ranch at Littleton are home ice for the multitude of teams playing under the Littleton Hockey Association banner.
There are about 675 boys and girls, ranging in age from four to 18, playing on association teams. There are about 180 4- to 8-year-olds on association teams while there are 19 teams of 9- to 18-year-olds. The largest single age group are the 13- and 14-year-olds who fill the rosters of the 14 association teams in the under 14 division. While many of the teams play only in the metro area, the upper level age-group teams often travel to tournaments at different locations around the country.
Brian TenEyck, director, said Littleton Hockey has been developing great hockey players and citizens for 50 years. He said he knows from experience the association is a strong family and community organization because he was a player, his dad was a coach and he eventually became director.
The association honors players who are program alumni who went on to play hockey at a Division 1 college or higher by placing their pictures on the wall of fame. Six new inductees were added to the 75 pictures on the wall at South Suburban Ice Arena.
Kent Murphy started with Littleton Hockey in 1994. He had played hockey in North Dakota and coached in a major program in Minnesota before a job transfer brought him to Colorado.
“I became a coach for the Littleton Hockey Association because it was the best program in Colorado,” he said. “I coached pee-wee teams made up of 13- and 14-year-olds for about 15 years. We were blessed to have good athletes and we won three national championships during the time I coached the teams. We traveled to the national playoffs 10 times and won three championships in a five-year span.”
He said the evidence of the level of talent is the fact that nine of the 18 players on the 2001 national championship team went on to play hockey at Division 1 colleges.
Ashley Hunt noted it takes a family commitment to have a child play hockey.
“My 10-year-old son is playing hockey and a child playing hockey requires a family commitment of time, effort and finances,” she said. “Hockey probably is more expensive than most sports, and that cost goes up when traveling is involved. I am fortunate because I have a lot of family support to help cover the costs.”
However, she noted it also places a lot of demands on the time of the parents and the child. She said her son is on the ice five to six hours a week, plus the other training activities mean committing about 20 hours a week to hockey activities.
“But, the parents of the players on my son’s team are like a big family,” she said. “We try to pitch in to share duties. For example, one parent may take a group of kids to practice and another parent will pick those kids up and take them home. We work together on scheduling and getting the kids where they need to be. We become close and great friendships develop.”
Trio of alumni play for DU
Littleton Hockey alumni have gone on to play higher-level hockey. For example, Josiah Didier, Grant Arnold and Quentin Shore now wear the University of Denver scarlet and gold.
Each of the athletes started playing hockey as a 5-year-old or younger and stuck with the sport.
Didier said his parents are hockey fans and he followed in their lead and started playing in the Littleton Hockey Association when he was about 5.
“I graduated from ThunderRidge High School but I did not play high school hockey,” he said. “Instead, I played for the Littleton Thunderbirds, an AAA-level team that is a step up from high school hockey.”
He left the Thunderbirds to move to Iowa to play junior A hockey, the step up from AAA. He spent three years with the Iowa team and eventually was recruited by DU. He said he has seen hockey become more popular, so there are more teams and more kids playing the sport.
Arnold is a 2010 Arapahoe High School graduate.
“I started out playing for association age group teams,” he said. “When I got older, I played for the Littleton Thunderbirds before spending three years with Green Bay in the United States Hockey League.”
In the USHL, clubs pay all expenses but no one receives a salary, so the athlete can remain an amateur. Last year, Arnold accepted a scholarship and the Pioneer sophomore now plays forward for DU.
Shore also began playing hockey at a very young age. He attended Kent Denver through the ninth grade and, as a high school sophomore, he was invited to move to Michigan to be part of the national development team.
Last year, he accepted an offer from DU. He also was drafted by the National Hockey League Ottawa Senators. He attended the Senators’ summer development camp with no impact on his amateur standing. Of course, if the NHL team signs him, he would become a professional athlete and have to leave college. He noted that hasn’t been discussed yet.