Dec. 3, 2008
Duluth hockey has new home
By Rick Weegman
When current Duluth East boys hockey assistant
coach Larry Trachsel played at Duluth Cathedral in the mid-1960s,
players flooded outdoor rinks themselves in order to practice.
Duluth Denfeld boys coach Kevin Smalley recalls
dressing outside the rink at Pioneer Hall due to a lack of locker
room space when he played for the Hunters more than a decade later.
And available ice time was so rare after Peterson
Arena burned down in 2004 — and with the DECC being used for
other events — that East traveled as far as 90 minutes away
to Hoyt Lakes just to practice.
But those are just memories now after the puck
was dropped Tuesday night for the first boys hockey games at the
Duluth Heritage Sports Center. Denfeld beat Ashland 7-1 to open
the proceedings. Cody Hotchkin scored
19 seconds into the game. The Hunters (2-1) outshot the Oredockers
54-15 and seven players scored goals.
“It’s a fabulous
home. We’ve waited for a long time, but good things
happen for those who are patient,” Smalley said. “For
all the people and their efforts building this arena, our town can
be very proud of finally having a place we can call home.”
The city’s three public schools will play
nearly all of their home games at the new arena — Marshall
plays at Mars Lakeview Arena — though big games such as East’s
battle with Cloquet-Esko-Carlton and section playoff games will
remain at the DECC.
“The DECC has been good to us for a long
time, but obviously it’s not the same type of environment
that we’ll see in the Heritage Center,” said Smalley,
who hopes the venue will have a similar atmosphere to Iron Range
Smalley’s players don’t need to worry
about where to dress, either. Each boys and girls team has its own
locker room at the new facility.
And once a second Heritage rink is completed —
estimates place that around Jan. 8 — finding ice time shouldn’t
be as much of a problem.
“The best thing I like about it is that
we, many times, have had to practice at nine o’clock at night.
The [practice] times have improved for all the schools,” said
East coach Mike Randolph, who is glad hockey has joined other sports
that added facilities in recent years. “For us to have a home
is a huge step in a direction that a lot of other programs have
had. But for us, it’s something new.”
Whether that translates into more on-ice success
for city teams is hard to say, but they’ve had a fairly good
run in recent years anyway. East (18-8-1 in 2007-08) is ranked third
in the Class AA preseason poll; Marshall (25-6), off three consecutive
Class A state finals appearances, is ranked second; 14th-ranked
Denfeld (17-11) hopes to battle Marshall, CEC and Hermantown for
the Lake Superior Conference title; and Central hopes to improve
from a 3-23 season a year ago.