By: Shawn O’Brate
RIVERTON – Every year the Riverton Ice Hockey Association brings together kids of all ages from all across Fremont County with the hope and goal of developing skating and ice hockey skills across the local communities, and every year they are forced to wait longer than any other group or team in the state to get on the ice.
That’s because the only ice rink nearby is on the east side of Riverton off Smith Road and the facility is not enclosed, meaning the weather must be perfect conditions for the ice rink to be skateable. But that doesn’t mean that the Riverton Youth Hockey (RYH) league doesn’t love their local rink.
“Nobody else in the state has a rink like we have,” Coach Roland Hancock, a board member and coach for the past five years, said. “Everyone has a nice rink but their rink says [they] can come down here between the hours of ‘this-and-this’ and this rink is just for us. We can do things whenever we need to or whenever we want.”
Coach Hancock and the rest of the RYH league love the ability and the freedom that comes with the rink but it puts them and their young athletes at a major disadvantage when it comes to the competition and the rest of the hockey leagues across Wyoming.
“We had five weeks of ice time last season where every other team had five or six months,” Coach Hancock said. “So that’s the difference and that’s what we’re missing … We have 100-plus kids. We could have more if we had a full length season, that’s the difference. We might get ice in December, but usually we get ice at the beginning of January.”
Despite the disadvantage the team still gets together and practices on dry land, learning position changes and having team building exercises. They also get together once a year and completely powerclean the rink.
“Every year we do reclean, we power wash everything [because] there’s birds in here during the year, lots of trash blows in through here so every year everyone puts in time and effort and just cleans ‘cause this is our rink,” Hancock said.
Hancock, the coach of the 10U team, also explained that this group of 100-plus kids that want to play hockey still do well even without a rink to skate on for months during the season.
“We’re always in the mix at the end,” Coach Hancock said. “We have a strong program considering our ice situation, our Squirts [age group] even won [state] two years ago.”
So far the RYH league has already had two games this year, without the ability to practice before or after except for two practices in Pinedale which was partially funded by the state. This is another example of why the need for a new ice rink is so massive in Fremont County, specifically Riverton.
“We have the only rink that is covered. Lander, Tonkin and Thermopolis have all had outdoor rinks over the years but … ideally we would like to build a new one,” Coach Hancock said. “If we could also keep this one that would be even better because the state, in general, there’s a real shortage of ice. If you go to Casper or you go to other big rinks [and] they’re so slammed that they don’t have enough ice time that they can practice a lot and do what they need to do.”
“We would love to have another ice rink [where] we can do games, practices, birthday parties, public skating and all that stuff. But if we could still even have this sheet of ice that could be awesome too as an extra facility ‘cause you just always need it, you can never have enough,” Coach Hancock continued.
Until the money can be raised to build that new stadium, or even enough to put chillers under the current rink, the team has to work with what they have, which is currently a 10U team, a 12U team and a 14U team who are just looking to get better overall.
“When you’re a coach the best part about it is the kids,” Coach Hancock explained. “You just love to work with kids and just seeing the joy on kids’ faces, that’s why you coach … Everyone starts falling on the ice and over time they build their skills up and the nice thing about our rink is that, even though we don’t have ice yet, once we get ice we can skate whenever we want and … by the end of the season we see huge growth. The way that they’re teammates, they build on teamwork, they know where to go on the ice, those kinds of things.”
The team has games set up across the state for the next six weeks but once the snow falls, the air crisps up, and the ice settles the RYH League hosts home games “pretty much every weekend” in January, which are fun games to attend.
“We have a great concession stand, we do things like Bunk’s BBQ, some cool meals, we make it interactive [and] it’s really fun. If nobody’s really seen hockey come down … you’ll be impressed with how fast and how fun these games are,” Coach Hancock said.
You can help the Riverton Youth Ice Hockey league by donating time and money through their Facebook page and be on the lookout for more information on the eventual home games