Adult leagues thriving at Olympic Oval
By Matt Mackinder
Efforts are being made by rinks all over the country to introduce new players to the sport – young and old – and the Utah Olympic Oval is no exception.
Just recently, the facility, which was made famous after hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics, unveiled its Utah Grizzlies Adult Rookie League, along with the Lady Grizzlies Rookie League.
The Adult League started last fall; the Lady Grizzlies are a brand-new outfit and will drop the puck later this month.
The 2013 fall session of the Adult Rookie League began with four teams, then the winter session jumped to 10 with the summer session running eight squads.
Olympic Oval hockey manager Jae Worthen couldn’t be happier with the success of the adult league right out of the gate.
“It’s hasn’t been just for beginning players who are brand new to hockey; it’s also been a great way for people who’ve been away from the game for a long time to come back – adults in their 40s and 50s who played as a youth wanting to coming back and play later in life,” Worthen explained.
Worthen says the players come from all of all walks of life and ages.
“We have people in their 60s and players as young as 19 years old just entering the league,” he said. “What makes our Rookie League unique is the fact that the players have an opportunity to practice and improve their skills. Instruction and coaching is hard to come by for adults just getting into the game, so we wanted to give our players more opportunities and more help.”
The league’s sponsors include the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies, USA Hockey, Players Bench and In The Crease Goaltending.
“They’ve been super helpful and supportive, but we still need help getting the word out about the Women’s Rookie League,” said Worthen.
Having the Grizzlies assist with the programs is an important component to the leagues’ success, says Worthen, and he credits Grizzlies vice president Jared Youngman or helping see the adult circuits come to fruition and progress in short time.
Grizzlies head coach Tim Branham also helps provide his team’s players and staff to assist the adult players during practice, giving chalk talks and offering more information, instruction and education about the game of hockey.
“I had an idea for a rookie league, but couldn’t quite make it work or put it together,” explained Worthen. “I came to Jared and it just took off from there.
“As our primary sponsor, the Grizzlies have been a huge asset to the Utah Olympic Oval and making this program so successful. They’ve helped get the word out to the community and also help us with that little extra motivational push for those players who may have been too shy to join a league in the past.
“And that’s exactly what makes our Adult Women’s Rookie League so important; we want to give our women an opportunity to enter into the game in a relaxed, comfortable setting and also give them instruction – not just play games.”
In the end, it’s another way to introduce people to the game.
“Hockey is the best sport in the world, but let’s face it: It’s not exactly the easiest to enter into and start playing,” Worthen said. “We feel that not enough is being done for our women’s hockey players, so we hope this Women’s Rookie League will really take off and provide them an opportunity to not only enter the sport, but grow and progress into other opportunities.
“We’ll always strive to get our community involved in winter sports, and nothing beats a fresh sheet of ice, a bucket of pucks and the new hockey season.”