As cross-ice hockey continues to grow in popularity, a growing number of youth hockey associations in Minnesota are enhancing games and tournaments with hard dividers, thanks in part to the help of Minnesota Hockey and Rink Systems, Inc., of Albert Lea, Minnesota.
The partnership, which formed last year, was renewed in August to continue making hard divider purchases an affordable endeavor.
“In keeping with USA Hockey’s ADM principles, we wanted to find a way to make it easier for people to host cross-ice games or cross-ice tournaments for these mite players, giving them a great game experience,” said Glen Andresen, executive director of Minnesota Hockey.
Andresen said the hard dividers — which are 36 or 40 inches tall and made of aluminum — are an improvement over other types of walls, such as foam dividers, because the puck plays more naturally.
“We heard good things about the hard ice dividers and how they improve play,” he said. “So our next thought was ‘how can we find a way to form a partnership with a company that creates them.’ If we did that, we could help our associations get the hard dividers into their rinks and provide a better game experience, not just for the kids but for the parents themselves.”
Minnesota Hockey approached Rink Systems and was able to create the Minnesota Hockey Hard Divider Program. It offered $2,500 discounts for associations purchasing a set of rink dividers. The combination of a Rink Systems discount and a Minnesota Hockey grant reduced the price from roughly $7,900 to $5,400 for associations.
The program began in September 2013, and Minnesota Hockey met its goal of 20 organizations registering for the hard dividers
Mike Humble was secretary/treasurer of the Rosemount Area Hockey Association when the commitment was made for the dividers at Rosemount Community Center last year. He said the hard dividers have been a success in the St. Paul, Minnesota, suburb.
“One of the big things was it allows us to go cross-ice, but it also gives the kids the feeling that they are on a real hockey rink,” Humble said. “The ends of those boards are curved, so the puck slips around it like it would in a normal curve on an ice rink.”
Humble said Rosemount’s mite jamboree served as the debut for the hard dividers, and it went very well.
Other associations have had similar experiences. In fact, the Hard Divider Program limited the discount to one set per organization, but some purchased an additional set or sets at full price.
With the program being offered again this year, the Osseo-Maple Grove Hockey Association was the first to purchase two sets through the discount, doing so in 2013 and 2014. As of mid-October, six other organizations have added the dividers this year, bringing the total number of participating programs to 26.
In conjunction with the addition, Minnesota Hockey began sanctioning cross-ice mites tournaments.
“It’s an added benefit that associations can run these tournaments,” Andresen said. “It makes the tournaments a little smoother, a little easier to run, by having these boards there.”
Rink Systems sells other rink equipment, including some accessories that fit specifically with the hard dividers. Osseo-Maple Grove has gone that route by marking the ice for cross-ice play.
“It’s a fun thing to have around,” said Matt Margenau, the Osseo-Maple Grove vice president of travel who served as mini mite director last year. “We painted creases into the ice for half-ice games for goalies to have that feature of knowing where they are.
“It’s all a culture. We all want these kids playing those games, but having these things helps rather than just being out on a big sheet of ice.”
Minnesota Hockey operations vice president Terry Evavold, who also oversees the ADM component of Minnesota Hockey, worked out the budget issues for the grants.
Andresen praised Rink Systems’ role in making it possible.
“Rink Systems has been an outstanding partner in this,” Andresen said. “They’ve been really easy to work with, and they really understand the value in working with our associations to get these out there.”
Evavold echoed those sentiments, and also sang the hard-divider praises.
“They definitely improve the game play, so that’s a primary benefit, and they add to the ambiance, too, which is all part of making it fun for the players,” he said. “And as the staff gets comfortable with them, I’ve seen the install and teardown done in as quick as six minutes, which keeps everything on schedule in the busier rinks.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.