Summer hockey without ice

Published 10:10 pm Thursday, August 2, 2012

Members of the Austin girls' hockey team do push-ups at the top of Skinner's Hill as part of a team-only work-out. -- Eric Johnson/

While Big Nine hockey teams like Rochester and Owatonna are getting plenty of ice time over the summer, the Packers have found themselves either on dry land or making 45-minute trips to Kasson, where ice is available, to prepare for the upcoming seasons.

Riverside Arena and Packer Arena haven’t held summer ice in past years, but this is the first year that Albert Lea hasn’t had ice in awhile. Austin head girls hockey coach Denny Bray used to hold a two-week summer hockey camp at AL with the Packers and the Tigers, but now he’s relying on his players to put in work by themselves to prepare for the season.

Carley Grunewald leads members of the Austin girls' hockey team on a run to the top of Skinner's Hill Wednesday as part of a team work-out.

“(Not having ice) hurts us big time, it definitely hurts us,” Bray said. “But we’re doing some things and we’re not just sitting there idle.”

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A few members of the girls hockey team are playing ‘AAA’ hockey this summer and the Austin team has played in a tournament in Mankato.

A group of Packers’ players have been meeting by Skinner’s hill throughout the summer a few times per week. While they can’t skate, they can run up down the hill and getting in all the conditioning work they can on dry land.

“Every other day they’re out there jogging and doing sit-ups and push ups,” Bray said.

Due to the Austin Bruins, Riverside has more ice than it has had in past years. The ice opens Sept. 4 and runs until March or April, depending on how long the Bruins play. Still, summer ice is not likely to happen any time soon according to Park and Recreations director Kim Underwood.

“There’s a cost for de-humidification and we don’t have the budget or staff to support full time ice,” Underwood said.

Bray said he’s hoping to boost interest in hockey to make summer ice feasible and he’s hoping the Bruins can help build up the popularity of the sport. The lack of ice hasn’t hurt the Packers’ amount of players, but Bray said it does have an impact on the season.

“I don’t think it’s cost us numbers, but I think we’re lagging behind,” he said. “Owatonna and the Rochester schools are skating all summer.”

Austin boys hockey head coach Erik LaRock just took over the program this summer, so he didn’t have a lot of time to set up a summer schedule with his squad. He said in the years to come he’d like them to focus on building strength, but having ice nearby would also be a big plus.

“It’s really hard to get high schoolers (to Kasson),” LaRock said. “If they were to play here, they could just go in, get on the ice and be done. It’s a huge time commitment and with kids playing other sports it’s tough and it’s expensive too (for them to travel).”

LaRock said having a couple of youth summer hockey camps, Bruins camps and summer league games could make summer ice a possibility.

He also said the hockey teams could work together to try and make it happen.

“We’d have to do some fund raising,” LaRock said. “But if the Austin Youth Hockey, Austin High School and the Austin Bruins all got together, it would help.”