Every time I walk into an ice rink I can’t help but smile. I feel the cold air as I walk through the door, I hear the sounds of blades cutting into the ice and I re-live the energy of players playing. It just feels right. So it was, when I met up with Jamie Huscroft (NHL stats) at Sno-King Ice Renton to talk about hockey. Jamie’s office proudly exhibits the logos of the 7 NHL teams (NJ, Boston, Calgary, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Phoenix and Washington) where he played 352 NHL games during a career that spanned 14 years. Included in the shrine is an 8”x10” picture of Bobby Orr’s (favorite player as a kid growing up in Creston BC) Stanley Cup winning goal where he is flying like superman through the air. As he got a bit older his favorite player changed. “During the 80’s, the NY Islanders were on their run and I became a big time fan of Bobby Nystrom. I got to know him when I played in NJ because he was doing the broadcasts for the NYI and I’d see him all the time, loved him, can’t say enough good things about him”. In the corner of his office are two “Hockey Stalls”, you know the kind the pro’s use, with just the right amount of hooks to hang equipment on and shelves for personal belongings and toiletries. If everyone had one of those cool stalls to dry out their equipment there would be far fewer cases of Hockey rash.
Favorite Hockey Moment
“You would think it’s my first goal, ah, it wasn’t very pretty. It was ugly, no idea where it was going, it went in the net, it was a goal, I went “Cool”.” While Jamie’s “Hands” were a big part of the reason why he was playing in the NHL, no one believed or expected that scoring goals was their primary use. Jamie’s favorite moment was in Boston, during the 1993-1994 Season. It was the night that Cam Neely scored his 50th goal in 44 games tying him with Mario Lemieux for the second fastest player to achieve that milestone. “The night Cam scored his 50th as part of a “Hat trick”, that night was special. Being there in the Boston Gardens, sold out crowd, game or two left in the shortened season (lockout year 94), 1st one in the league to break 50 goals, they stopped the game. The place came down, everybody was throwing hats and shoes, and I was sitting there on the bench and you could feel the building shaking; it was just crazy. ”
Sno-King Director of Facilities
The inherent challenge with managing Ice Rinks is that during the day, the kids are in school and the hockey playing community is working so there is an abundance of time slots available. At night and on weekends, everybody wants to play and there aren’t enough time slots to meet demand. “People are always screaming for more ice time. Sno-King gives me their requirements for minor hockey first and then I start juggling adult hockey leagues, figure skating, public skating and private lessons as best I can.
The minor hockey programs are incredibly healthy, highest it’s been in a long time.” Last August, USA Hockey announced that Sno-King Amateur Hockey association was one of only 11 associations in the country to become ADM Certified. USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM) has four guiding principles.
- Making the game more affordable to attract and retain more players.
- Reducing the time commitment to allow young players to participate in other sports and activities and to allow their families to plan for other family activities.
- Make the most of the time that is spent at the rink by utilizing age optimal training techniques.
- Making every trip to the rink a great experience for the player to make them look forward to their next practice and game.
“We’re trying to keep costs down and provide a life balance for the players. Maybe you’re at the rink 3 days instead of 4, maybe you cross the mountains for 1-2 tournaments instead of 3-4. We’re upfront with the kids and let them know that they will spend more time on the ice practicing than playing games, and I think that’s a good thing. We play cross ice and have 50 kids split up among 6 coaches doing 5 minute drills and then cycling through to the next drill. Our costs are among the lowest for minor hockey in the area”.
NHL Coming to Seattle
There has been lots of speculation about if, or when, the NHL might grant Seattle a franchise and Jamie thinks that “Really, it’s just a matter of time. Unless you’re Gary Betman or one of the prospective owners, no one knows for sure when it will happen. He is a very smart man and he’s not going to show you his hand but they will only put a team here if it makes financial sense”. As far as whether the Seattle market could support a team, Jamie is very bullish. “There are a lot of Hockey fans here, strong minor hockey presence, enough corporate money and you would draw fans from both Vancouver and Portland. I went up to Vancouver the other day for a 5pm game and I’m sure that people from Vancouver would come down here too”.
The T-birds and Silvertips have both developed strong fan bases and we discussed if an NHL team would help or hurt the junior programs. “I’ve heard both sides of the argument and I think it helps. It’s two different things. People who attend Jr Hockey games bring their families because it’s good hockey and affordable entertainment. An NHL team in Seattle doesn’t change that”. We talked about what were some of the characteristics of a “Dream” NHL owner and Jamie said “Ridiculous amount of money”. “When I was in Washington, Ted Leonsis and his wife would come down and hang out or bs with the boys and it was great. When I was in Tampa, the team was owned by a Japanese business man and I never met the man. I like the idea of a passionate owner like Mark Cuban is for his basketball team. He wants to win and that’s a good thing for the team. Paul Allen is a great owner, he’s on the field with the players, he provides the team with all the tools to win and he lets the Football people and coaches do their jobs. When I was in Boston, I loved Jeremy Jacobs as an owner, that’s where I got my first real crack at playing in the NHL”. We then discussed how NHL teams in LA, NY Rangers, Toronto, Denver, and Philadelphia own both the Hockey and Basketball teams. “Having two tenants certainly helps from a building perspective, but I don’t know if it helps either team in the market because they have two very different audiences”.
There’s a knock at the door and Jamie is late for an on-ice session. He moves over to the stall in his office while continuing his train of thought and quickly laces up his skates. I follow him out of his office and then pause to watch as he heads for the ice. Stick in hand, full of purpose. I think to myself, the Seattle hockey community is a better place because of Jamie Huscroft and I can’t help but smile.