Lacing up a younger teammate’s skates, Juliana Andrews, 15, smiled and shrugged her padded shoulders when asked her favorite thing about hockey.
“I really like how it’s is a really emotional sport,” Andrews said. “You’re playing a game you love with people you love.”
As one of 12 girls playing on the Laramie Amateur Hockey Club 19U all-girls team, Andrews said she’s seen a significant increase in hockey players at the Laramie Ice & Event Center.
“It’s pretty easy to tell, since everyone puts the (hockey club) decal on the back of their car,” she said. “My dad and I are always keeping an eye out for them, and there’s so many out there now. We’ve even seen them on cars in Denver, so that’s pretty cool.”
Not only has interest increased since Andrews started playing hockey about 8 years ago, but Laramie Amateur Hockey Club President Scott Miller said participation has nearly doubled since 2009.
“These last couple years, we’ve been at the highest level of age-level players in the history of the club,” Miller said.
Although the club was founded in 1975 and hockey teams originally played at LaBonte Park, Miller said members didn’t start tracking membership numbers digitally until 2009 when 66 hockey players 18 and younger were registered with the club spread throughout five age groups. With construction on the Ice & Event Center completed in 2003, club growth picked up speed and this year, he said the club has 110 registered hockey players 19 years old and younger spread through six age groups.
Because of growing interest among female players, Miller said the club started a 19-years-old-and-under all girls team, aka 19U, in 2012.
Laramie Parks and Recreation Department Ice and Fitness Recreation Program Coordinator Devin Stalder said hockey wasn’t the only the ice sport growing in Laramie.
“The hockey club is probably the best example of growth at the Ice & Event center in the last five years,” Stalder said. “But we’ve seen massive growth in just ice usage in the last five years.”
Increased ice usage benefits the rink in a number of ways, but he said it’s becoming problematic to facilitate all the interested parties.
“It’s a good problem to have, but the biggest challenge right now is space,” Stalder said. “Our (University of Wyoming) hockey team is bringing in huge crowds. For our public skates during the weekends, we’re getting 100-150 people. Figure skating is bringing more people in. We don’t have enough time and space to give everyone what they need.”
Both Miller and Stalder said adding showers, more locker rooms and a bigger lobby would benefit both the hockey club and skaters in general.
“We’re working with the city to potentially expand ice time, too,” Miller said. “We’ve just outgrown that space.”
Although the hockey club’s numbers can’t compete with larger cities such as Cheyenne and Casper, he said Laramie’s participation was high compared to other cities with similar-sized populations.
“Each clubs’ numbers fluctuate,” Miller said, explaining Wyoming is home to 10 other amateur hockey clubs. “But we’re doing really well for our size. We’ve done well being competitive on the ice, and we’ve made hockey very affordable.”
By working with funding from the city and offering an equipment rental program, he said the club has attracted families who might not have become involved with the cost prohibitive sport.
With the help of 34 volunteers, Miller said the club’s teams typically play games across the state from September to March.
“We’re all over the place every weekend,” he said. “The complexity of the schedule is really impressive, but we couldn’t pull it off without our volunteers.”
Regardless of size constraints, Miller said the club aims to continue growing into the foreseeable future.
“We want to aggressively recruit younger players and focus on retaining our teams,” he said.
“For the last 10 years, it’s been continual growth and continual improvement in what we’re able to offer kids, and we hope to keep that up in the future.”