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McGregor: Rec Center expansion could vastly improve hockey in Dickinson

I wasn't born into hockey, but over time it's grown to be my favorite sport.

That's why I was immediately intrigued when I heard another rink could be added to the existing Dickinson Recreation Center.

"The ice could go possibly eight to 10 months out of the year," West River Expansion Committee chairman Scott Karsky said. "We would also have the possibly of putting it on during the summer time three to five weeks for camps."

The expansion to the Dickinson Recreation Center -- part of a $15 projected million effort to improve the arena and the West River Community Center -- would be more than another rink, it would serve a multi-functional building. The addition is expected to have batting cages and pitching mounds for baseball and softball teams, and the arena area could be used for trade shows, car shows and concerts.

"It's not necessarily going to be an indoor sheet of ice," said James Kramer, Dickinson's director of Parks and Recreation. "I think the project is going to be a lot bigger than that."

I spent most of my years growing up in Watertown, S.D., where hockey has a tradition of winning and usually competing for a state title.

Before I stopped playing hockey, I was on the 2000 state championship Pee Wee "C" team. When I started middle school, I decided to forego hockey and play basketball.

Long story short, I played basketball for one season. Boy was I young and dumb. There's one decision I wish I could make again.

Dickinson is experiencing a population explosion and it's only natural that numbers in most sports will increase. The hockey program is no exception.

As of last year, the Dickinson Hockey Club has more than 300 kids. It isn't an easy task fitting that many kids on the ice during the winter months.

"We've been growing leaps and bounds the last few years," Karsky said. "We need it. You just can't handle it with one rink."

The breakdown of the number of levels is 14 teams. The practice time for each team is between an hour to an hour and half. The Dickinson Recreation Center also has open skate scheduled three times a week for two hours.

That's a lot of ice time to share in a small window.

An additional rink would alleviate the teams practicing as early as 5 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m.

"The big thing about having another rink is the ice time during the winter," Dickinson head boys hockey coach Tom Folske said. "It will be nice to have some summer ice. The big benefit is going to be in the winter time and we aren't going to have people practicing at 6 a.m. and 10:30, 11 p.m. We'll be able to have a little bit longer practice sessions, which means more development."

Since Watertown has a single rink that is comparable to the Dickinson Recreation Center, I wanted to look at a town, similar in size to Dickinson, that completed a project similar to what the West River Expansion Committee is planning.

In 2002, the Larson Ice Center opened in Brookings, S.D., and gave the town the opportunity for more ice time.

How did this work?

Since 2002, the Brookings Hockey Association has won 30 of their 47 state championships. With a recent winning tradition, the Brookings hockey program numbers have remained the same, while other towns in South Dakota have seen a decline.

"Since the time I've been associated with program, our numbers have been fairly steady," said Todd Stratmoen, Brookings Hockey Association president. "I think the facility is certainly part of the reason for that. We're fortunate to have that arena."

It's just food for thought, but is it possible for Dickinson to replicate Brookings' success?

I'd like to think so. There's no telling what can happen with more practice time, more ice availability and more kids. Only a select group of people can determine the success rate -- the hockey players, their coaches and families.

The city of Dickinson is looking at making a nearly $5 million dollar commitment to hockey. Is it a commitment ready to be returned both ways?

The first step is contending for a state tournament berth. The last time the Dickinson boys hockey team made reach the state tournament was in 2000. However, they have been close on multiple occasions.

If the Dickinson hockey program is serious, the players and coaches have to be ready to utilize the new expansion to the best of their abilities.

"Dickinson is competing now and we want to keep that going," Karsky said.

McGregor is a sports reporter for The Dickinson Press. He can be reached at rmcgregor@thedickinsonpress.com. Follow him on Twitter at SirRoyal.

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