Janesville28°

Milton district wants boys hockey, but where?

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Neil Johnson
June 1, 2013

— Milton High School Athletic Director Brian Hammil believes there’s enough interest in boys hockey that the high school could pull at least six players a year from inside the Milton School District.

That could provide enough players to fuel the boys hockey team that the district plans to start up in the 2014-15 school year, he said.

Many of the players, Hammil said, eventually would come from the ranks of the Janesville youth hockey league’s perennial crop of Milton players.

Those are players who typically have left the Milton School District for Janesville Parker or Janesville Craig high schools to continue playing for the Janesville Bluebirds.

Milton officials hope the district’s hockey program will help it retain state aid that otherwise would follow hockey players out of the district as they enrolled elsewhere.

“One of the ideas, beyond hockey being something that dozens of parents say their kids want, is to keep from losing enrollment in our district,” Hammil said.

The district has set aside $15,000 to cover boys hockey expenses, including ice time.

Because the school district will be shouldering costs of the program, boys hockey players would get charged $650 to join. Like baseball or golf, students will be responsible for providing most of their own equipment.

“Hockey families are used to those costs,” he said.

The big dilemma: Milton has no ice rink. And it’s ice time—for both practices and games—that’s the main issue Hammil said must be resolved before the district can move forward with getting into a hockey schedule with the Badger South Conference.

“There’s a lot of planning that needs to be done. You don’t want to do it at the last minute,” Hammil said. “You don’t want to do it without ice.”

A home in Janesville?

One option is to pay the Janesville Ice Arena for ice time.

Milton schools have asked the arena for 2014-15 ice time, and the request is being reviewed by Janesville recreation department and ice arena management.

Bluebirds coach John Mauerman said the Bluebirds, a cooperative team of Craig and Parker high school players, uses the ice for 75-minute blocks during early morning and after-school practices, although he declined to say how often the team practices.

He said the team books about 66 hours of ice time for games in the 24-game season between November and February. Most games are played on weeknights.

Ice arena Manager Bill Scherer and Janesville Interim City Manager Jay Winzenz said neither the city nor the ice arena has decided if it’s viable to guarantee that much ice time for a Milton hockey team.

Scherer said scheduling ice time at the one-sheet ice arena is “extremely tight.” It’s used for youth hockey, the Janesville Jets semiprofessional team, the Bluebirds and figure skaters.

Janesville resident Jodeen Exner, who has children who figure skate and play hockey, said figure skaters need about 10 hours a week—or two hours every other day—of ice time.

Winzenz said the city already is aware that some of Milton’s requested morning timeslots could conflict with figure skaters.

Milton is amenable to booking ice times that don’t disturb routines of other users, Hammil said.

“We’re trying to be flexible and not take ice time from the other users. We’re willing to take ice time when the place is not in use, odd hours, even,” he said.

Hammil said there’s been no discussion of going with another ice rink. He said the district wants to hammer out something with the ice arena before looking elsewhere.

“The most ideal thing is to stay here (in Rock County). I’d just as soon we put our money back into that rink (Janesville Ice Arena),” he said.

The next closest indoor rink to Milton is Stoughton.

Competition?

Milton already has joined a cooperative of area high schools for girls hockey for the coming school year.

Hammil said he tried to spur interest in a cooperative for boys hockey with Janesville and other school districts after about 20 Milton parents requested the district offer boys hockey. No area schools were interested, Hammil said, so he began to pursue Milton starting its own team.

Hammil said it would be easy for critics of a Milton hockey team to say Milton could only field a team by raiding the Janesville program for students who live in the Milton district but enrolled in Janesville. He said it’s not like that.

Hammil doesn’t expect hockey players from Milton who attend Parker or Craig to suddenly leave Janesville schools because Milton offers hockey. Milton players coming up through the ranks, however, would be more likely to end up attending Milton schools, he said.

“Again, we’re just looking to keep from losing students, not steal them back,” Hammil said.

Meanwhile, the presence of another hockey team at Janesville’s rink could make it tricky for figure skaters.

Exner, the local figure-skating mom and Janesville Jets host, said that when hockey seasons heat up at the ice arena, figure skaters’ ice time typically gets trimmed from 10 hours a week to as little as three to five hours.

“We get kicked out in the wintertime,” she said.

Yet Exner said nobody in figure skating has animosity about Milton’s plans for a boys hockey team.

“I don’t think anyone from (figure) skating is against Milton getting hockey. We just want to get the ice time we need,” she said.

It would be more convenient for everybody if Janesville’s arena had two ice sheets, Exner said.

“I wish we had two sheets. I wish they did a better job of figuring out what the need was,” she said.

She laughed, joking that Milton should think about building its own rink.

“If they did, we (figure skaters) would probably try to get some ice time there,” she said.



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