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Summit hockey community hopeful for midsummer restart after COVID-19 shutdown

Summit Hockey Classic rescheduled for fall; youth group starts Zoom calls

The exterior of the Stephen C. West Ice Arena is pictured May 1 in Breckenridge.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com

DILLON — For Chris Miller, the executive director of Summit Youth Hockey, there are two ways to look at the ongoing novel coronavirus shutdown that has forced him and other hockey lovers off the ice.

On one hand, the shutdown taking place in mid-March came at an OK time in terms of logistics. Summit Youth Hockey players had nearly completed the winter 2019-20 season, and the Summit High School season was over. Aside from the Breckenridge Vipers semipro team losing a few home games, the canceling of the end of the adult league season and the Summit Hockey Classic having to be rescheduled for Sept 18-19, the shutdown has been weathered by the Summit hockey community.

“If it was even a month earlier, we would have had a lot more struggles than we do now,” Miller said.

On the other hand, the Summit hockey community has endured pain, loss and a void in social lives with the melting of the ice at Stephen C. West Ice Arena.

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“One thing people are realizing now is more the social aspects of our sports,” Miller said. “It’s unique when you have a locker room, and you are spending 15-20 minutes before and after with the kids. Missing that is the biggest thing, not necessarily the hockey.”

With an eye toward running Summit Youth Hockey’s first on-ice events — camps at Stephen C. West Ice Arena — at the end of July, Miller and his fellow Vipers teammate and new Summit Youth Hockey Director of Operations JR Engelbert have assessed the current shutdown for opportunities.

In terms of the community and financial element of Summit Youth Hockey, the postponement of the annual April Summit Hockey Classic — the organization’s largest fundraiser — should help the organization weather the storm, Miller and Engelbert said. Miller said several of the event’s major sponsors have pledged their support despite the change. The postponement gives the local community something to look forward to while the Breckenridge and county’s health protocols prevent the opening of the ice area for, it seems, at least a couple more months.

There have been other cancellations, including some Mountain Militia all-star team events and resort ski school games, but Miller said Summit Youth Hockey should be OK because it was in a strong financial position ahead of the shutdown.

The Stephen C. West Ice Arena is pictured May 1 in Breckenridge.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com

“From our point of view, we’ve been coming up with all scenarios of when we are going to start for next season,” Miller said. “And we’re excited about the new classic date. Instead of it being a way to turn the page on a season, it’s a way to start a new season.”

Through the shutdown, Miller and Engelbert said they’ve been communicating with the organization’s membership to do everything they can to keep kids engaged. Engelbert said organization leaders are using this time to refine how Summit Youth Hockey will execute a more concentrated focus on player-development skills once they return to the ice. That includes weekly skills practices for all age groups starting with mites, replacing one traditional practice a week.

And in terms of keeping the community of young hockey lovers together, the organization has begun introducing weekly Zoom meetings for coaches and their players. It’s 45 minutes for the teams to come together virtually to chat about a different hockey theme or topic each week. But more importantly, it’s an informal avenue for kids to get back with their buddies.

“To have a space to open up and talk and have some fun, as well, with hockey on the mind,” Engelbert said.

As for the Vipers, for which Engelbert serves as general manager, he said the loss of the last three home games of the season is a hit to the organization’s wallet considering ticket sales are the primary means of revenue. Most players have been able to keep their local jobs, he said, and the roster is looking intact for a return to the ice next winter, a schedule Engelbert is already planning.

“It wasn’t anything that is totally drastic,” Engelbert said. “We are going to be able to take care of everything by the fall again. It hurts when you come up short, and then we also lost a little bit of that capital, and we’re not sure how this is all going to shake out in terms of sponsorship and fundraising, so we’re in a holding pattern right now, but we’ll see how it shakes out when the dust settles.”


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