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FCHA enjoys continued success at Collins-Moylan rink

You have to wonder how the Franklin County Hockey Association does it.

One of the most successful youth hockey programs not only in Massachusetts, but in the country, the FCHA in 2011-12 was the state’s fourth fastest growing youth-hockey program. That alone may seem impressive, but when you consider that Massachusetts is the eighth largest youth-hockey district in the United States, it’s even a better accomplishment. Massachusetts is so big, it is considered a larger youth hockey district on a national level than Sweden.

It’s no secret that youth hockey is big in Franklin County. Greenfield’s Collins-Moylan Arena is always packed with weekend youth activity, producing lots of tired parents and well-trained, enthusiastic skaters. There are a number of reasons for the program’s success, including the countless individuals who volunteer their time.

But that alone is not all it takes to get youngsters involved in hockey. Anyone with any knowledge of hockey knows that there is no sport in which equipment costs more money for parents and players, and Franklin County is the state’s poorest. That’s why you hear of stories like the one about Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas’ parents selling their wedding rings when he was young so he could attend hockey camp.

The high costs of hockey leaves organizers like FCHA president C.J. Spofford with the task of finding ways to make the sport affordable. No parent wants to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment only to find out that their child doesn’t like the sport. It’s an expensive risk.

That’s why the FCHA introduced the Loaner-Equipment Program a few years back, and it has continued to grow. Now, any player participating in the FCHA can borrow quality equipment for free, giving players from nearly any household the ability to try the sport.

“The key to everything is loaner equipment,” Spofford explained. “It’s the only reason we’re able to continue the program. It allows people to try hockey.”

When someone thinks of an equipment-loaner program, the picture that comes to mind is a pair of worn skates and equipment that comes straight from the 1970s, stuff that wouldn’t make anyone feel safe. That is not the case with the FCHA, which has received a grant from the Mike Cheever “Grow Hockey” Development Program that serves in conjunction with the Boston Bruins. Through the grant and a relationship with Gateway Hardware in Springfield, the FCHA is able to buy new or quality used equipment at a substantial discount. Thus far the FCHA has not had to turn anyone away who’s seeking equipment, which is issued on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Anyone who reads The Recorder Bulletin Board section regularly knows that the FCHA travel teams are successful in the competitive Greater Springfield League. But those teams have to get players from somewhere, and many of them hone their skills in the FCHA house leagues. The house leagues require less dedication for players and parents than travel teams, and they are more affordable. FCHA’s Learn to Skate Program is open to all ages and costs just $5 per week for professional skating instruction.

The organization also hosts a multitude of youth leagues for all ages, including a brand new Bruins Fundamentals 6U Intro to Hockey, which costs $50. Players ready for a tougher challenge can compete in the 8U Junior House League ($299), the 10U House League ($299), and the Sr. House League ($399), which is open to players 11 and older, based on experience. All four of those leagues run from Nov. 17 until March 16. Spofford said their success greatly affects the travel teams.

“Our feeder program is our Learn to Skate,” Spofford said. “The real important part is that we have 13, 14, 15-year old kids still starting hockey.”

Registration and fitting times for the Loaner-Equipment Program are scheduled for four dates in November, including the first one on Nov. 3. For more information on the loaner program or leagues, contact Spofford at 773-5086 or Sean Lavoine at 531-9239. You can also find out more at www.fcha.org.

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