Locals get their puck fix at
Chapman Hill rink
young hockey players wait for the Zamboni to put
a slick new finish on the Chapman rink on Tuesday./Photo
by Dustin Bradford
Ice hockey and the Southwest go together
like... well, they don’t. But that hasn’t
stopped Durangoans and other Four Cornerites from descending
upon the Chapman Hill Ice Rink in droves, anxious to get
a fix of the fast-paced sport traditionally relegated
to environs north of the 40th parallel.
Since opening for business about three years ago, the
rink has seen a dramatic increase in recreation-league
hockey participation, said rink supervisor Matt Morrissey.
“Three years ago there were nine teams; last year
there were 18 and two levels,” he said. “Now
we have 21 teams and four levels.”
Brian Wendt, program coordinator for the rink and an
avid hockey player from the Midwest, said the addition
of refrigeration to the Durango rink in 2001 has made
all the difference.
“We used to have to be at the rink at 5 in the
morning because it was the only time the ice would be
set up,” he said. “Now we have ice from November
through March,” he said. “The public has really
taken to it.”
And it’s not just the Durango public. Morrissey
said the rink, the only refrigerated one in the Four Corners
(the next closest ones are in Santa Fe and Gunnison),
draws hockey players from as far away as Cortez, Pagosa
Springs and Farmington.
“It’s a huge league for a town this size,”
he said. “We suck everyone in from the Four Corners.
I don’t think the rest of the general public realizes
how busy this ice rink is.”
|Two young players suit up in
the bleachers before a youth hockey session Tuesday.
Brian Wendt, program coordinator for the rink, said
he expects more than 100 kids to participate in this
winter's program. /Photo by Dustin Bradford.
It has become so busy, in fact, that last Sunday night,
players were turned away from a drop-in hockey session.
With heavy rock blaring from the rink’s sound system,
about 40 players took to the ice to warm up before an
The drop-in sessions are held several times a week and
are open to various levels, from beginning “C”
players to intermediate “B” players and advanced
“A” players. Sunday night was to be the inaugural
drop-in game for Dean Garland, a member of the Nini’s
Taqueria team, which plays in the C division.
“I’m a complete novice,” said Garland,
a teacher at Miller Middle School who, up until this season,
hadn’t skated in 25 years.
Garland, who grew up near Denver, said playing hockey
is a realization of a childhood dream – of sorts.
“I always wanted to play hockey as a kid,”
he said. “But basically, my mom said ‘Like
hell I’m going to get up at 5 a.m. and take you
Garland said the hockey flame was re-ignited when he
recently visited the Durango rink with his family and
ran into a friend who played in the league and encouraged
him to join. Garland said his misgivings over being a
little rusty quickly vanished when he talked to his prospective
“They asked ‘Can you skate backwards?’
and I said ‘Yeah,’ and they said ‘Can
you stop?’ and I said ‘Yeah,’ and they
said ‘You’ll be great then.’”
Wendt and Morrissey said that although Durango has its
share of “rink rats,” die-hard division A
players, it is the beginning C players, such as Garland,
that account for the most vital portion of the league.
“The beginners are what build our program,”
center, goes over some of the finer points of the
game with his young proteges./Photo by Dustin Bradford
In order to foster beginners’ interest in the sport,
the city offers adult clinics with a hockey coach as well
as daily “stick-and-puck” sessions.
“This way beginners can actually train and learn
the sport,” said Morrissey, who grew up playing
hockey on a frozen pond in the northeast. “You can’t
learn how to play hockey just playing games. It’s
one of the most difficult sports to learn.”
In addition to novice players, Morrissey said the Durango
league also is seeing an influx of female players –
off all levels. This year, the league even has two all-female
teams – Chicks With Sticks and the Mother Puckers
– who will be participating alongside co-ed and
all-men teams in the C division.
Stacie Rappaport, of Durango, grew up playing hockey
with her brothers in Vermont and went on to play noncompetitively
in college. She now plays on the Nini’s team and
estimates that more than half of the team is female. She
said she has played in both all-female and co-ed leagues
and prefers the co-ed version.
“I like it much better playing with guys,”
she said. “It’s more of a challenge.”
Rappaport said she feels she receives the same treatment
from her male counterparts on the rink. However, she did
note it can be a bit unsettling playing against the oftentimes
larger and stronger sex.
“It can be intimidating, especially when they’re
out of control,” she said. “I fear getting
But she said this shouldn’t deter potential female
“To them I say, ‘Come on out and have fun,’”
she said. “‘Give it a try. You only live once.’”
In addition to cultivating adult players, the city also
tries to cater to younger players.
Wendt said the city has hockey programs for kids 3-years-old
and up. He said he expects to see 100-plus kids in this
winter’s programs and that the city is in the process
of trying to set up competitive kids games between Durango
“It’s hard to motivate the kids to practice
when they can’t play real games,” he said.
He said there is even talk of forming a high school team,
although the logistics of long-distance travel could be
In the meantime, some high school players looking to
advance their skills have opted to play in the adult league.
Jeff Dunn, 17, who plays for Ice Jam, a level B team,
started playing hockey four years ago after seeing a professional
“I went to an Avalanche game one time, and after
that I was hooked,” said the teen, who took up a
part-time job to help pay for his gear.
And although he said he harbors no dreams of furthering
his hockey career past recreational status, he said now
that he has mastered the basics, he will continue to play.
“Once you get it, it’s kind of like walking,”
he said. “You never forget it.”