Americans Visit Youth Hockey Players in Pendleton

by Annie Fowler

Tri-City Americans coach Stu Barnes is intrigued by the Pendleton Round-Up and thinks a cowboy hat may be in his future, but his Jan. 24 trip to Pendleton was about hockey.

With the help of the Wildhorse Resort & Casino, five Tri-City players and the coaching staff met with a group of Pendleton youth hockey players at Roy Raley Ice Rink to work on basic skills and sign autographs.

The ice rink is home to Pendleton Ice Sports, which has 58 hockey players — including nine girls — who hone their skills on the small sheet of ice.

“I don’t know who is more excited, me or the kids,” said Aaron Gillespie, who works with the youth program. “Anything that grows the game in this area, that’s what’s important. This is an amazing opportunity for our kids.”

For the Americans players, skating on a small rink brings back childhood memories.

“We would go to the nearest pond, clear it off and use that,” said Tri-City forward Ethan Ernst, who grew up in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. “This is fun. This rink is awesome. It’s great to see how happy they (the kids) are. I’m glad we can leave a good impression.”

Along with Ernst, the Americans brought forwards Parker Bell and Tyson Greenway, defensemen Alex Seraglio and Marc Lajoie, Barnes, and associate coaches Jody Hull and T.J. Millar.

Pendleton High school juniors Nick Schrader, Alexander Krokosz and Freddie Schreier have skated in the local program for eight years. Having the Americans join them was a treat.

“This is dope,” Schrader said.

Schreier said she was the only girl in the program the first four years she played.

“Most of my friends don’t really do sports, so they are cool with it,” she said. “The rest of my friends are out here.”

A standard sheet of hockey ice is 200 feet long and 85 feet wide. Pendleton’s rink is 96 feet long and 56 feet wide, has dasher boards and boasts its own Zamboni. A grant from Wildhorse helps keep equipment costs down for players.

Barnes, who played 16 seasons in the NHL for five teams, grew up in Spruce Grove, Alberta. He was impressed with the Pendleton rink.

“It’s a great setup,” he said. “An outdoor rink is the simplest, truest form of the game. I would be shocked if a majority of players in the game didn’t have memories of playing outdoors.”

Barnes said he often missed dinner because he was playing hockey outside with his friends.

“We had a rink, and at the school yard the basketball court would freeze over and we would skate on that too,” Barnes said. “The great thing about hockey is you can play at any age. It’s exciting when you see the young kids out there. It’s a positive for the game, for sure.”

It was the first time the Americans made the trip to work with the Pendleton program, but the young players and their families have attended several Tri-City games over the years. This year, the group is going to the Feb. 11 game when the Americans host the Red Deer Rebels.



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