Two Harbors Youth Hockey Board hears concerns
Approximately 60 people showed up for a Two Harbors Youth Hockey Association (THYHA) Board meeting Monday, May 14, at the Lake County Arena in Two Harbors.
Their primary interest was the board's April decision to end an agreement to partner with the Silver Bay Blue Line Club for three teams to cooperate as the North Shore Storm, including the Bantam and Peewee boys teams and the 12 and under (12U) teams.
The THYHA cited reasons for the decision such as increased time and expense to players and families traveling between Two Harbors and Silver Bay; traveling on Highway 61 in winter conditions; and problems implementing consistent policies and training methods across the two programs separated by approximately 30 miles.
According to THYHA Board President Rick Hogenson, the decision was made after "countless" hours of internal discussions among the THYHA Board and coaches, as well as a survey of the association's parents about their thoughts on the partnership. The survey, according to THYHA hockey director Jesse Lundgren, showed a majority of the parents are in favor of ending the agreement between the clubs.
The decision shocked many parents and Blue Line Club Board members, who were notified of the decision at a meeting April 10. Members of the Blue Line Club Board, parents from both clubs, a Lake County commissioner and one player spoke at the meeting. Of the 11 people who signed up to speak, none favored ending the cooperative partnership.
Jeni Torgerson said her daughter was crushed when she learned they would not be cooperating next season. Her daughter made friends with other players around the county and experienced some real team success in hockey for the first time.
"I'm from Two Harbors. I think I've spent more time in Silver Bay this year than I ever have in my life," she said. "I go back in the season where I think here are the Silver Bay girls and here are our girls, and I stopped feeling like that. By the end of the season, they were all our girls. Winning isn't everything, but it's something and having some success ... is important."
Torgerson went on to encourage the two boards to come together and make some "creative decisions" to improve to partnership to better benefit both clubs and communities.
Perhaps the most powerful moment was provided when Lily Benvie, a player from Two Harbors on the 12U girls team, stood to speak.
Lily played hockey for three seasons on a THYHA team that saw little success. In her fourth year, she competed on the combined Storm team that went 20-14-1 last season and won tournaments in Two Harbors and Superior last season.
When Lily started playing with the North Shore team, Silver Bay players would warm up on one side of the ice and those from Two Harbors were on the other, but they quickly got to know each other and forged a winning partnership with many new friends, she said.
"I probably would say that if they aren't combined, I don't want to play," Lily said. "That's my family. I don't want to lose them like that and I don't want to play against them."
Economic concerns raised
Lake County Commissioner Rick Goutermont voiced his concerns about the economic impact of ending the partnership. Goutermont has been a representative of Silver Bay on the county board since 1993. During that time, he has been a part of the committee that oversees the maintenance of Lake County Arena in Two Harbors and Rukavina Arena in Silver Bay.
Lake County has invested millions of dollars over the years in the arenas, according to Goutermont, and while the county wants to support youth activities, it is also interested in the amount of revenue hockey generates for local businesses through games and tournaments. If local youth hockey teams are less competitive because of smaller numbers, there are fewer teams outside the county that will be willing to make the drive up the North Shore, reducing the number of customers at local restaurants and hotels, particularly during lean winter months, Goutermont said.
"I know in Two Harbors you're thinking we've got the population; we can make it," he said. "No, you're not. You don't have any more players down here than you have on the other end. You need each other. This is Lake County as a community and I really, really ask you to think about that and rethink the issues.
"I don't think this is about driving time," Goutermont said. "I don't think it's about the cost. It's personalities; it's perceptions; it's agendas; it's playing time. I think that's what it really is and all those things can be taken care of with better communication."
At the end of the meeting, Hogenson told the crowd that he wouldn't make any promises for what would happen in the future, but stressed the "door is open" to a new arrangement between THYHA and the Blue Line Club. Hogenson did not respond to News-Chronicle questions about what, specifically, would need to happen for his organization to agree to a new partnership.