MORGANTOWN — The Morgantown Blades 12-and-under hockey team took the ice at the Morgantown Ice Arena Saturday morning with a chance to move into first place in their division in the PAHL (Pittsburgh Amerature Hockey League).
Taking on first-place Lawrence County (Pa.), the Blades fell down 4-0 in the third period but fought back with two quick goals before surrendering an empty-netter to fall 5-2. It was an exciting finish for a game that drew a nice crowd on a cold Saturday morning inside the old ice arena that shows its age in more ways than one.
Renovations for the Morgantown Ice Arena had been on the table for nearly six years when BOPARC finally announced a plan to implement them last month. But, BOPARC’s originally plan of shuttering the arena for the entire 2023 ice season (March 2023 through August 2024) would have made it so a scene like Saturday’s game might not have happen again for a long time.
“A loss of the season would be catastrophic for our organization,” said Blades’ coach Ryan Petrucci. “When we found out the news that they were going to close completely, it was very difficult. There’s not enough ice time anywhere for us to get out practices in.”
Petrucci explained that without the Morgantown Ice Arena, all 16 teams in the Morgantown Hockey Association would have been forced to try and find ice time elsewhere.
“The only solution is trying to find ice time at a different arena,” he explained. “The closest arenes are Connellsville, Rostraver and South Point (all in Pa.), which are all about 45 minutes to an hour away with limited ice time availability. Plus the cost of ice time at those places is twice the cost of what we pay here.”
Hockey is already a more expensive sport than other youth alternatives such as soccer, basketball or baseball and so the added barrier of having to travel long distances just to get on ice could have forced many kids to drop the sport.
“Most arenas could not accommodate the need for all of our teams to go to those places for practice,” Petrucci said. “And even if they could, there are families who pay a lot right not just for their child to play and to get a child to South Point, an hour away, for a 5:30 practice is almost impossible.”
“It would have been catastrophic to membership, to athletic development, to kids not having a place to play,” echoed Joe Perella, an MHA board member. “Each team gets two one-hour practices a week and we usually play games on the weekends, so these kids spend a lot of time playing hockey and this would be an activity they wouldn’t have access to.”
In response to BOPARC’s original announcement, approximately 100 members of the Morgantown hockey community showed up at the next Morgantown City Council meeting to voice their displeasure. And BOPARC listened, quickly announcing a new plan that would keep the ice arena closed only from March to October of this year.
“Speaking as a member of the board, we are extremely appreciative of the community support and we’re also appreciative that the BOPARC board stopped, listened to what the people had to say and actually made an effort to make a new plan,” Perella said. “We just can’t miss a season. We can modify, we can try to do whatever we can, but missing a season would be terrible.”
The current hockey season runs through the end of March and begins in August, so MHA’s teams will have to find places to play for a handful of weeks, but it’s a much better alternative than having to piece an entire season together.
“We can schedule our home games for (next) season, which is huge,” Perella said. “We can go a couple of weeks where we have to go to an alternate location, but any family that has to deal with that for eight months is going to be in a hardship.”
“It helps us get our season in because I really don’t think we would’ve found a home for all of our players,” Petrucci added. “And once that starts, players start to find other organizations. The players who are very interested and motivated and want to get better will leave and will find those programs.”
The new plan will also help keep MHA’s costs low for players and their families, something that is very important to the association.
“We’re probably one of the lowest-cost hockey organizations in our league,” Perella said. “But we really do want it to be open to everyone who wants to play. We don’t want it to be exclusive, we don’t want it to be something you have to have resources for.”
With BOPARC’s new plan, there is hope that next season will be able to go on more-or-less as normal, with all of MHA’s age groups able to continue learning and playing the sport of hockey and hopefully producing many more exciting games like the one on Saturday morning.