In the small communities of Delano and Rockford, kids of all ages savor the opportunity to play hockey together any chance they get.
The annual Skate with the Tigers event at the outdoor rink in Rockford is an event they especially enjoy. It’s a high-energy practice that not only strengthens the bond between the high school players and the Delano Area Youth Hockey Association—it’s a tradition that defines the true culture of the community.
“The high school kids are really great with the younger kids,” said Justin Burud, president of the Delano Area Youth Hockey Association. “It’s awesome. A lot of the kids look up to them, and they take the time to play with them. It’s such a wonderful time.”
Even on days off, it’s tough for players to stay away from the ice.
“A lot of these kids get to skate together in an unorganized, very authentic way,” said Gerrit van Bergen, head coach of the Delano High School boys hockey team and a member of the Hockey Development Committee. “Whether they’re on the pond or on someone’s backyard rink—you’ll see high school kids out there on their day off on a Sunday, and before you know if, there are a couple of other little kids out there getting to know them and trying to keep up with them.”
Those moments have fostered a connection that’s been integral in growing the hockey community.
“I think it’s a huge piece of our culture,” van Bergen said. “It’s why we’ve been able to continue to grow.”
Seasoned players also make time to attend events like the annual Try Hockey for Free Day and the One Goal program, which allows kids to try the game of hockey while keeping the cost down.
“With the One Goal program, we supply the kids with all the equipment,” Burud said. “It’s before the season starts for Intro to Hockey. They come out there and see if they like it. If they like it, they can sign them up for Intro to Hockey, and then they keep that equipment until they grow out of it. It helps lower the cost to get started in hockey.”
Through the Intro to Hockey program, kids take part in 12 sessions throughout the season. They learn the fundamentals of skating and hockey, while taking part in age appropriate drills.
Van Bergen has had the opportunity be a part of these programs as both a parent and a coach, and he’s seen firsthand just how much of an impact they’re making.
“The One Goal program has been great,” van Bergen said. “We had at least 10 high school guys out there volunteering their time and helping out. The ability and the opportunity for guys to serve in those ways is so important. Between One Goal, Intro to Hockey, and Try Hockey for Free, getting our guys involved in that is just a chance for them to give back to our brotherhood as a hockey community. We want to continue to grow those things, because they really are special.”
Home Ice: Delano Area Sports Arena
President: Justin Burud
2019-20 Registration Numbers: 300
While many hockey rinks throughout the state are city or school-owned, the Delano Arena Sports Arena is instead fully owned and operated through its own hockey community—fueled by registration fees, fundraising and sponsorships.
“There are only a few in the state that are all by the board,” Burud said. “We have a board for the hockey association and we have a board for the arena.”
That ownership breeds enthusiasm and dedication from volunteers, players, coaches and families.
“There are so many families and individuals and coaches that are big into the association that help out,” Burud said. “They volunteer a lot of hours, which is very helpful.”
Off the ice, members of the Delano Area Hockey Association make time to give back.
“Part of our mission statement is developing their lifelong skills, and the biggest one is respect,” Burud said. “We do a lot of giving back through various foundations. Starting at the Squirt level, we have that whole team work together to give back to some sort of foundation. We want to provide our kids an opportunity to develop lifelong skills, and we want them to have fun.”
Van Bergen also knows there are opportunities for other sports in addition to hockey. He’s thrilled that many high school players set an example by playing two or even three sports.
“Any time you’re getting stronger or faster or more athletic—if you’re becoming a better teammate or becoming more tactically aware—you’re becoming better in all of your sports,” van Bergen said.
Delano is proud to be able to provide kids with those opportunities for growth, along with valuable connections they can cherish.
“That development elsewhere is so valuable to the overall person they’ll become,” van Bergen said. “Because eventually, you start to find what you really enjoy, and what you’re good at can change from when you’re a little kid. Having those options and seeing our high school players be mentors and role models for younger kids—it’s really special.”