From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
By James Burky
In March 2020, a devastated Tim Winegard carried his ice skates into his garage and threw them across the room into a storage shelf.
Winegard, coach for the Colorado Mesa club hockey team, was just informed that his team’s season was over because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The next school year, the team’s future became even muddier with ownership of the only ice rink in Mesa County up in the air.
“I thought it was done for sure. I let all of the players keep their brand new jerseys, we emptied our dressing room, I gave everything away,” Winegard said. “There was so much uncertainty about the rink. First someone was going to buy it, then they didn’t. Then it was going to stay a rink, then it’s not. Then someone was going to buy it and turn it into a dealership, then they didn’t. Then it’s a rink, then the city was going to buy it.
“At some point, I stopped paying attention. I talked to my boss and said, ‘I don’t wanna know. If there’s a hockey team, you give me the call.’ ”
Then Winegard received the call he had been waiting for. He knew what it was about and was given the “OK” for the team. Like Gordon Bombay in the Mighty Ducks, Winegard rounded up the players who were still around and got the word out that the team was back.
By the start of October, they were practicing again. And a few days later, they were playing.
“THE GREATEST SPORT IN THE WORLD”
Make no mistake, despite being a club team, CMU hockey carries the same intensity and dedication as any of the school’s intercollegiate squads. Its season usually begins in August and ends in March, and the team practices and hits the gym multiple times a week.
There was a team through 2013, but it dissolved when the old rink closed.
Winegard, who is also a history professor at CMU, rebooted the program in 2014 because “hockey is the greatest sport in the world,” he said.
Winegard is an Ontario native, so hockey is embedded in his DNA. After playing in college, he moved to Mesa County. That was quite the culture shock for him.
“I grew up in Sarnia, which is about the same size as Grand Junction, and we have eight rinks. My wife is from Grand Junction, and when we moved here I asked where the rinks were and she said that they didn’t have one, because it was closed at the time,” Winegard said. “It was pretty disappointing. In Canada, even if you have six people in a town, you have two things: a Tim Horton’s and an ice rink.”
Once the then-named Glacier Ice Arena — now Rivercity Sportplex — opened, Winegard got to work on organizing a team. The Mavericks hit the ice in 2014, and have since competed at the Division III level of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. This year, the team has struggled against opponents, thanks in large part to not practicing until six weeks into the season.
But what matters most to the players is gliding on the ice and playing the game they love.
Jake Howard, a senior forward, played hockey in high school in Arvada. He has played the sport since he was 8 years old and chose CMU partly because of the hockey team.
Playing the game feels right to him, and that made this year’s return to the ice all the more sweeter.
“Coming back is almost a miracle. The boys are loving it and our dynamic is awesome. Having a year off really makes you appreciate team sports,” Howard said. “What’s great about this is that you learn leadership roles and how to grow as a person.”
PINK THE RINK
On Thursday, the team’s annual Pink the Rink fundraiser returned for a game against Montana State University.
All proceeds from the game went to St. Mary’s Cancer Survivorship Program. It’s one of the largest fundraisers CMU has, Winegard said.
Both he and Howard said that the fundraiser was the most important aspect of the night, the game was merely a sideshow. Still, many in attendance were excited to have Mavs hockey back.
Jess Creasey was at the game Thursday with her partner and son.
They’re big Boston Bruins fans and became regulars at the CMU games when they moved here about nine years ago.
“We came to most of the games before COVID, of course. It was a bummer when the team stopped playing. But we were super excited when we heard the team came back,” Creasey said. “I think this is super valuable to the community. It gives people something to do, a chance to support the college and enjoy a sport that isn’t super popular everywhere.”
Winegard’s co-workers and players all credit him to building and then rebuilding CMU hockey.
“It’s nice and all, but it’s all about them. It’s all about the kids,” he said.
(Originally published at https://www.gjsentinel.com/news/western_colorado/frozen-following-colorado-mesa-hockey-returns-to-the-ice/article_b22f170c-46fd-11ec-b317-479da7a9ee7d.html)