Ice time is precious, take it when you can get it.
For Woodland Park High School's inaugural ice hockey season, this rings especially true.
The team took the ice at 9:30 p.m. Monday for an hour-long practice at the World Arena roughly 33 minutes away from home on a school night.
It's all part of the growing pains, says coach Chad Mason.
"We didn't know we were going to have this program until late and it was one of those deals where we got whatever ice we could get," Mason said. "It's all at the end of the day after all the youth hockey."
The school has been working on getting an ice hockey team for the past three or four years, Mason said. Those plans came to fruition in the middle of May, but by then, most of the slots for ice rinks were already booked. The team doesn't have a indoor home rink close by. Woodland Park has an outdoor ice rink as part of the Meadow Wood Sports Complex but, due to weather, it cannot reliably house the team.
That results in a late schedule for the Panthers as they scramble for ice time. It also means Mason's kids have to stick to a schedule to ensure they get enough time to finish homework.
"We really stress being a student-athlete and that means when you get home from school, you gotta have a snack, you gotta get your homework done, take your nap, have dinner and then be ready to come to practice late," Mason said.
The Panthers are from a 3A school and so far the competition has been with 5A powerhouses such as Valor Christian and Castle View, teams that saw 80-150 students try out for their respective hockey teams.
Woodland Park had 23 people try out and all are used for the 20-man roster.
Mason hopes the divisions get realigned next season but the size gap doesn't deter his team. He and his coaching staff set some expectations with the team. Winning state was the answer from the kids.
"We did some goal setting, obviously the kids set the goals high, we'd love to win a state championship but I think our main goal is to try to win the league, it's more realistic," he said.
"We'd like to be competitive in our league. Our goal is to win the league obviously, if we can finish .500 we'll be happy in this inaugural year."
One would think that it might be somewhat jarring, frustrating even, to be an upperclassman on an inaugural high school team whereas other athletes have been building their team and camaraderie over four years, but the Panthers are embracing the challenges while reveling in the opportunity to play with and against old friends.
Bobby Costello, a junior goalie who played for Doherty last season and Palmer his freshman year, said the team has great chemistry because they all used to play together on youth club teams in Woodland Park.
"Honestly we've played with each other for a really long time ever since we were little so we have the chemistry there, it's just as high school came along we kind of split apart but now that we're back together, the chemistry is definitely there," Costello said.
Senior left wing Colton Ivory echoed Costello's statements.
"We're already really close as a team, Woodland Park is a pretty small town," he said. "We all knew each other. It's almost a brotherly bond. I love all the kids I play with."
Ivory has love for the kids he doesn't play with any more as well, saying he'll have a great time joking with his former Palmer teammates.
"It's awesome, it's a great relationship, we can joke with each other and hassle each other a little bit and we don't get mad or anything," Ivory said.
The team has gotten off to a rough start with losses at the aforementioned Valor Christian and Castle View.
On Friday the Panthers have their first home game against Crested Butte at the Air Force Academy, which will serve as one of four home locations for Woodland Park. The team will play at Cadet Ice Arena, Colorado College's Honnen Ice Arena, The Broadmoor World Arena and a couple of games at the outdoor ice rink at Meadow Wood Sports Complex when the weather gets a little cooler.
Tom Taranto, a team parent and a prominent figure in the Woodland Park Hockey Association that oversees many of the town's youth teams, has created a fundraiser in order to put a roof on the outdoor rink.
Taranto said the roof isn't just for the hockey community but also to provide a nice venue for the town year-round, including as a space for dances, conventions and musicals. According to a timeline on the fundraising website woodlandparkroof.com, the plan is to raise funds from now through 2019 and break ground with hopes to finish in 2020.
Taranto's son, Parker, a freshman center, said he is excited to make history on board a new team at his school. He also said fellow students at school are excited to have an ice hockey team represent Woodland Park.