Denfeld News

Dec. 3, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

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 rinks.

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.

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