There are some hockey players and families who love the game so much they are happy to spend six to seven days a week at the rink for five or more months a year. While that passion is certainly one of the best parts of the sport, that type of commitment isn’t necessarily right for everyone.
The Minnesota Hockey Recreation League (“Rec League”) recognizes that and provides an alternative way for kids to continue playing hockey. The Rec League held its inaugural season in 2009-2010. There were 78 players that first year. Four years later, the Rec League has grown to over 260 participants and three age levels.
“We are heading into our fifth year as a league and while we don’t necessarily have an official charter, everyone involved is committed to the same guiding principles: fun, low cost, low commitment, low travel and equal teams,” said Jim Aiken, who has been volunteering as a coach since the league started.
This year the Rec League will provide boys and girls at the 12U, 14U and 17U levels the opportunity to participate in one practice and one game per week beginning in December and finishing in March with an end-of-the-year festival. Kids will be placed on teams according to skill level and their geographic area. However, they can also request to play with their friends.
“I love the extended relationships we’ve built with other hockey families that live around the metro who we also see in our other sports,” said Aiken, whose family is heavily involved in lacrosse. “My boys are two and a half years apart in age and have friends that go to a dozen different schools. This league allows them all to play together.”
While the Rec League provides kids the opportunity to play with their friends from different areas, most of the teams are made up of local rink rats getting together for a more organized form of hockey.
“My son played in an association as a Mite,” said Aiken. “He loved playing in games but didn’t enjoy practices. He was fine quitting organized hockey and just playing on nearby outdoor rinks. When a neighbor told us about the Rec League, he jumped at the opportunity and even got his older brother to join.”
That is what the Rec League is all about. It gives kids an opportunity to continue playing hockey, when they otherwise would have quit.
In fact, Aiken believes that the Rec League is in a way a feeder program for youth hockey associations. During his first four years, he has seen only two kids come directly to the Rec League from an association and seven or eight players of his players have gone on to play Peewees or Bantams for an association after finding a renewed passion for the game.
Most of the players in the Rec League are simply a different brand of hockey player. Some are brand new to the game. Others, like Ed Litman’s son, are involved in other activities that leave only a limited amount of time and money to participate in a winter sport.
“We were never going to sign up for association hockey,” said Litman, another volunteer coach. “With two other kids, we couldn’t make that kind of commitment as a family. Without this league, my son wouldn’t be playing organized hockey.”
They aren’t the only ones either. One family from Burnsville has three kids participating in the Rec. League. Two of them used to play traveling hockey for an association. Their main passion is for soccer though, and as they grew older, they started playing more and more indoor soccer during the winter months. Rather than completely giving the sport up like they would have been forced to do in the past, the Rec League gave them the ability to stay on the ice.
“There are other places where kids can be champions,” said Litman. “This league allows them to do that. For these kids, hockey is about having a good time.”
For more information or to get registered for the upcoming season, go to minnesotahockey.org/recleague.