Fort Bragg youth hockey tradition remains on a roll
Brian Mennes, left, one of the head coaches for the Squirt Hockey League, corrects the form of a player as they warm up for practice, Jan. 5, at Cleland Ice Rink.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Geared up in pads, helmets with facemasks, skates and a stick, the children of the Squirt ice hockey league chased a tiny, black puck around the rink of Cleland Ice Rink.

The Fort Bragg Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's fall and winter youth ice hockey has been in full swing since October 2010 and won't end until February of this year. The Fort Bragg's FMWR has partnered with the Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation to offer this exciting and tough sport to children both military and civilian.

The players are placed in one, of the six leagues that are offered according to their ages. Children ages 5 to 6 are in the Mini Mite league; the Mite league is comprised of children ages 7 to 8 and the leagues continue all the way up to the Midget league, which has teenagers ages 15 to 16 years old.

Jayce Walker, 9, started hockey when his mom suggested the opportunity.

"It's fun because of the fighting (even though we aren't allowed), but I'm going to try to play as long as I can," Walker said.

For head coach Brian Mennes, a colonel and the commander for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, coaching gives him the opportunity to spend time with his children, so when they move up an age group, so does he. Mennes started coaching in 1999 when he coached his eldest daughter's soccer team in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and tries to coach whenever he isn't deployed. He also coaches the United States All Forces Rugby Team.

Mennes played hockey as a youth and was on his high school hockey team in Buffalo, N.Y., as well as an All Western New York Hockey player and was recruited by low-level schools.

"It is primarily hockey parents who have hockey playing experience who volunteer to coach," explained Mennes. "We are fortunate to have many coaches with very good hockey backgrounds who see the value in helping to provide experience for the players."

During hockey practice, Mennes says he and the other coaches focus on the fundamentals of skating and try to make it as fun as possible.

"Coaching is in the eye of the beholder," Mennes said. "If they (the children) don't understand what you are instructing or it is too complex or boring ... they will let you know."

For 10 year-old, Stephen Gorski, playing hockey was just the opportunity he was looking for to get on the ice and thought it was be a lot of fun.

"It's different and I like skating," Gorski said. "We play really hard and learn different skating techniques and how to skate with the stick. I want to do this when I get older and be a professional hockey player."

Mennes encourages children who want to play hockey to get out and skate.

"There's no place better (in the U.S.), than Fort Bragg for learning to skate. Instruction and ice is cheaper here than anywhere. Take advantage of the public skating opportunities and the skate coaches available," said Mennes.

Cleland Ice Rink is located off of Reilly Street in Building 3-1606. Operation hours vary by day. For more information on Cleland Ice Rink hours or coaching, call 396-5127 or visit the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation website at www.fortbraggmwr.com/Cleland.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16