Story by Larry Kline
Photos by Nikki Carlson
Danny Roe, at the age of 11, has already been a member of four state championship teams.
He's not alone.
On most weeknights and weekends between October and March, scores of young Havreites lace up their skates and glide onto the ice at the Havre Ice Dome. Whether they're working on their skating technique in practice or checking an opponent in the heat of competition, the players are part of a winning tradition, one that's written on the wall. The east wall of the ice dome is covered with numerous championship banners earned over the years by the various members of the Havre Youth Hockey Association.
It's not all about the “W,” though. Or about “scoring and checking,” which are Danny's favorite parts of the sport he's played since age 4.
The association, like many youth sporting organizations, is the sum of the people who care for it and the children they're trying to mentor.
Parents and community members volunteer their time as coaches, board members and referees. They paint, they maintain equipment, they install insulation, they cut the grass in the summer. They drive hundreds of miles on weekends to games across Montana, in Idaho and Wyoming and Canada.
They all have a common goal: to teach Havre children responsibility, commitment, sportsmanship and character.
Danny's father, Dana Roe, has one other child in the program and an adult son whose friends got the family into the sport 11 years ago. One advantage to the sport, he said, is that children can start so young. The association has teams for children as young as 3, and its age divisions go through the high school level.
“We decided to let him give 'er a whirl, and we've been with it ever since,” Roe said.
He said all of his children have become good role models for other kids because of their experience with the sport.
Gerhardt Perry, who coaches 11- and 12-year-old boys and girls in the Pee Wee program, said discipline is the primary lesson learned on the ice.
“If any kid leaves the ice, or at the end of the season, I would hope that self-discipline would be the main thing they have learned - being able to apply themselves to any given task. Teamwork and sportsmanship both mesh into that, (along with) being a good citizen,” Perry said.
Like all of the league's coaches, Perry volunteers his time. And, like a few others, he doesn't have a kid in the program. Association board member and coach Dave Armstrong said Perry is like the league's other coaches - “extremely dedicated.”
Fellow coach Kevin Hellegaard said that commitment can easily be found among the ranks of team parents.
“It's really a special group of people,” he said. “You bring up the idea of going to a nonconference game, and the response is: ‘When? Where?'”
The ice rink itself is an example of the level of support in the Havre community. A decade ago, the organization held fundraisers and solicited donations from residents and members of the business community, who responded with generous donations of money, time and materials for the rink's construction, Armstrong said.
The association has six age divisions of Ice Hawks. Termites are 6 and younger. Then come the Mites, the Squirts and the Pee Wees. At the Pee Wee level, kids are allowed to begin checking each other. The Bantams are 13 and 14 years old, and the high school team provides an even higher level of commitment and competition. The association is not affiliated with Havre Public Schools.
The association is an affiliate of the Montana Amateur Hockey Association, itself a branch of USA Hockey. Havre teams play conference games as far away as Salmon, Idaho, and regularly travel outside the state or north to Canada to take on nonconference competition.
Perry has been impressed with the kids in his charge. He's coached for three years, moving up from Squirts to Pee Wee this season. He said the level of competition on the ice is “pretty intense.”
“They're all good kids,” he said. “They're very spirited, a lot of them are. They work hard on the ice, and I know off the ice a lot of them are straight-A kids.”
One kid who gets a little extra lesson in responsibility is 12-year-old Chase Rolf. A center for the Pee Wee team, he's also run his family's skate rental business at the Ice Dome for three years. He got into the sport six years ago when a friend talked him into it at the end of soccer season. His mother, Renee, serves as an association board member. She gave the sport glowing reviews.
“I think it's an awesome sport. We've got the best people in hockey. Kids can start at 3 years old,” and adults can play into their 80s, she said.
“There's hockey in heaven,” she added.
Parent Joe Morsette, whose son Tony has played for seven years, said hockey is a good activity to get involved in because it keeps kids out of trouble and away from drugs.
Kira Hansard, whose son Ethan has played for three years, echoed Rolf's sentiments.
“(Kids) learn leadership skills. They learn discipline. It's a thing where everybody else depends on your level of commitment,” she said. “It's really not easy. They have to work their tails off.
“We have awesome coaches,” Hansard added. “They take these kids and really work with them. It's a great sport and more kids should be involved.”
One thing that sometimes makes parents wary of hockey is its cost. The Havre association is cheaper than some other hockey organizations in the state, which can charge up to $1,000 a year for one high school player's registration, Dana Roe said.
Armstrong said the association has a sliding scale for members based on age. Termites can register for under $100 a season, and high school players pay about $275 to play. Families with multiple players can get a discount, Hellegaard said.
The association also offers scholarships to families struggling to make ends meet, Armstrong said.
Any parents who are interested in the sport should seek out hockey parents for information before next season's registration in the fall, he added, or contact a board member.
Roe said parents don't need to fear the cost of equipment. Quality used equipment is available for purchase in Canada, and the association has some equipment available for rent. The cost isn't as steep as some people think, Roe said, and the kids aren't usually the ones who need to be persuaded to join.
“These kids - once they start, they're hooked,” Roe said. “It's the parents you've got to convince. They have to take on that commitment. But it's very rewarding.”