SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After COVID dwindled the number of youth hockey players in Santa Fe, coaches are trying new methods to build the youth programs back up. Blades on fresh ice and the puck gliding away as kids chase after it was much-awaited sights in the rink for coaches and families, alike.
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“It’s great to see the enthusiasm, so fun, so happy to get out there, especially after missing last year,” said Devin Killoy, a youth hockey coach with the Santa Fe Capitals. “It’s been tough and it’s great to see we have a little young program that’s excited and growing.”
There were fewer numbers in the stands and on the ice in one of the early games back. However, Santa Fe’s youth hockey community says it’s the first sign of a fresh start after recent years.
“I’ve seen a recent decline shortly before COVID and then COVID really decimated the program a little as far as numbers and there was no facility open up here,” said Joel Meyers, a youth hockey coach with the Santa Fe Capitals. “They don’t see it. They’re not here, they’re not exposed to it, so they kind of forget about it and move on to other things.”
Over the past two years, coaches saw older players instead travel to Albuquerque’s leagues, while younger players transitioned to other sports. Now, the Santa Fe Hockey Association is working to revamp the program, starting with the tiniest players, the “mites.”
“They just want to play, which is what we’re trying to do,” said Oliver Gagnon, head coach of Santa Fe’s Hockey Association youth program. “We’re trying to get them as much ice as we can so they can go out there with their friends and have some fun.”
On Saturday, mascot “Woofee” and kids as young as 8 years old returned to the sport as the Santa Fe Capitals rebuilds its team. Coaches say they couldn’t be more proud. “My heart swelled. Walking down here brought me back to the reasons I started playing as a young child, the reason my kids started playing, continued to play,” said Meyers. “It gave me hope for the future of the program.”
However, with much work still to be done on the recruiting end, the Capitals are pulling out one more stop to get kids on the ice. They’re partnering with our NHL neighbors, the Arizona Coyotes, who will bring their “Little Howlers” program to the area in January.
“It’s not often we have a professional sports team that commit their time and resources to our youth,” said Gagnon. “We’re hoping that’s going to be a big initiative and hoping it’ll draw a lot of kids under the age of 8 out to the rink and on the ice.”
The team is co-ed with players of all skills and backgrounds, and supporters say they’re ready for the youth sport’s comeback in the capital city. With the help of Santa Fe-area businesses, the team is also able to offer scholarships to children interested in signing up. Registration is available online.