Clint Connally got involved with the Laramie Amateur Hockey Club several years ago when his son wanted to learn the sport, and he figures his involvement will continue as long as his children are part of the club.
Connally took over direction of the 8U program last year and has also spent the season recruiting families and helping parents learn about the sport.
He was recently honored with the club’s Dale Wade Award, its highest honor. The award, named after one of the club’s founders, recognizes exceptional service to the club.
“It was pretty unexpected,” he said. “The list of people that have received that award is pretty impressive. It’s definitely a humbling award.”
Connally grew up ice skating and playing a lot of sports, but never organized ice hockey. His son, who is now 8, caught the hockey bug by watching University of Wyoming club games at a young age and wanted to try the sport as soon as possible.
“We joined the club when he was old enough to skate, and we’ve grown and evolved with the club since then,” he said.
Last year, when Connally noticed there were just three kids in the program the same age as his son, who is now eight, he realized he wanted to see the program flourish.
“If he was going to stay involved in it, I decided I should figure out how to help grow it a little bit,” he said.
Now, with two children playing organized ice hockey, Connally said he’s committed to the club as long they want to keep playing, which could be a few years, as the club has teams for players up to 19 years old.
This season, Connally took over coordination of the 8U portion of the club, for skaters eight and younger, while also coordinating the Initiation Program, which is for new members.
“I try to stay off the ice and focus on helping the parents,” he said.
Connally said many parents with children in the club were never hockey players themselves, but they played other sports growing up and recognize the value of athletics and team sports in general.
“You don’t have to have grown up around hockey or know a lot about hockey to be part of it,” he said.
One of the first things young players learn is how to get up — a reminder that they’ll be falling a lot. When on an ice rink, which is surrounded by glass, players are insulated from onlookers such as parents and coaches.
“If you fall down in the middle of the ice, nobody’s running over to help pick you up,” Connally said. “A lot of independence is learned by the kids. They learn to function and help each other and learn as a team.”
Anyone who’s lived through a Laramie winter knows outdoor activities aren’t always easy, but a few hours a week of exercise does wonders for energetic children.
“Hockey is consistent, (it’s a) couple times a week, (you can) go burn some energy and play all winter long,” he said.
Players as young as five can join the club. The youngest skaters take part in several tournaments each season, usually in Colorado. Older teams compete around the state. Out of the 149 skaters in the program this year, 54 were part of the 8U program.
“For me, the biggest thing is keeping this program healthy and growing,” Connally said.
The Laramie Amateur Hockey Club was founded in 1975 by a handful of hockey enthusiasts who originally skated at an outdoor rink at Undine Park. The club helped with fundraising to build the Laramie Ice and Event Center in 2003.