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Hard Ice Divider Subsidy Program Benefits Go Well Beyond Money  

10/23/2016, 11:00am MDT
By Heather Rule - Special to USA Hockey

Manufacturer partners with Minnesota Hockey to help associations afford dividers for cross-ice games

Many hockey associations across the state of Minnesota have jumped on board with hard ice dividers instead of foam, giving kids a more realistic game experience.

“When we first got them, all the kids were kind of in awe about them, how great they were,” said Laurissa Stigen, hockey mom and co-registrar for the Fergus Falls Hockey Association.

The hard ice dividers are provided through a continued partnership four years running between Minnesota Hockey and Rink Systems, Inc., called the Minnesota Hockey Hard Ice Divider Subsidy Program. The dividers can be purchased at a discounted rate and have been instrumental in growing cross- and half-ice games.

The boards also get more teams on the ice at once, according to Glen Andresen of Minnesota Hockey.

“The biggest benefit for us is it’s helping to promote more small area and age-appropriate games and practices,” Andresen said.

Playing cross- and half-ice hockey increases the number of puck touches, passes, shots and puck battles that players experience, providing more efficient skill development and nurturing passion for the game through greater engagement, all key parts of USA Hockey’s American Development Model.

Dalton Hanson, national sales executive for Rink Systems, is a big ADM fan.

“Cutting the size down just gives them a lot more energy so that when they’re out there they can get more touches on the puck,” Hanson said.

The program is furthering player development for youth hockey, a model that was still catching on four years ago when the subsidy program began, according to Andresen. Now, it’s something that’s fully embraced.

“We knew that USA Hockey was doing the right thing with the ADM,” Andresen said. “It was just a matter of, ‘What tools can we provide to make sure that this is embraced across the state?’”

In Minnesota, 52 hockey associations over the past three seasons have been part of the subsidy program, using these ice dividers in their community arenas. That’s about one-third of the associations in the Minnesota Hockey program, according to Andresen, and a few have purchased more than one set. He’s also pleased to see that the interest isn’t from just one area. Programs from Fergus Falls to Two Harbors to Osseo-Maple Grove are all on board.

Fergus Falls has taken advantage of the program twice, purchasing two sets of dividers. They’re used in the city’s two ice sheets for their boys and girls 8U and 10U house leagues.

Rink Systems manufactures the boards and size-appropriate goal frames. It’s a family-owned and operated company based in Albert Lea, Minnesota. They’re also focused on youth hockey, Hanson said.

“I want to see the kids grow so that the industry stays thriving,” Hanson said.

Offering the smaller goal frames is new to the program this year.

“We wanted to look for ways to keep enhancing that cross-ice experience and making the entire game more beneficial for the little kids playing,” Andresen said.

Stigen was happy to hear the junior goal frames were available, since it’s another need for Fergus Falls.

“It’s just unrealistic to put a mite in a full-size goalie net,” she said. “It’s not valuable to the shooter, who has much more open net, and it’s not as valuable to the child who wants to play goalie.”

Andresen agrees. Putting a little kid in front of a huge net isn't comparable to what they experience later, he said. Some associations will turn regular-sized goals upside down, which is OK, but again not realistic, according to Andresen.

Big Nets, Ice No Fun for Adults

This partnership is more than just providing some hockey equipment and saving a little green. The boards help set up cross- and half-ice hockey surfaces that can help kids develop into better hockey players.

“That’s a cost saving in itself, being able to have more kids on the ice,” Stigen said.

With that savings, hockey associations can focus on other things. For example, Fergus Falls has purchased additional hockey equipment and updated their jerseys. They’re grateful for the subsidy program and the discount it provides, Stigen said.

The feedback Minnesota Hockey hears is great, too, according to Andresen. The boards are thick, sturdy, not jagged and easy to move, all things people seem to like, he said. It’s different than playing with foam dividers, which don’t offer that real-game experience.

“It just gets more associations and teams willing to play cross-ice games when it’s a more realistic experience,” Andresen said.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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