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PAYHA making progress

Front row L to R: Owen Nelson, Cayden Folsom, Jacob Olson, Marcus Olson, Lola Pulver, Thor Holen, Avery McAllister, Noah Thompson .Middle row: Keegan Kostohryz, Brock Melgard, Jaxon Vetsch, Willow Thiel, Courtney Frohling, Kia Olstad, Ethan Guck, Austin Dow, Mari Pulver, Aspen Thiel. Back row: Coach Sierra Olson, Coach Ryan Nelson, Daunte Leiran, Leah Honor, Logan Zajac, Kyle Swanson, Philip Guck, Dixie Carrow, Jacob McAllister, Quentin Frohling, Dakota Olson, Jack Mensing, Coach Al Lepp, Coach Joe Gjerd...1 / 2
The hockey program in Perham is making strides in gaining more participation and game action in Detroit Lakes, as well as here in Perham.2 / 2

Hockey awareness continues to progress both on the ice and in the community, according to Perham Area Youth Hockey Association (PAYHA) organizers and the small patch of ice that makes up Perham's only rink is getting its share of use this winter.

"The ice is never not busy," PAYHA President Trent Swanson said. "After practice today, there'll probably be 10 people out there skating."

Three of those skaters are Ryan Nelson, Joe Gjerde and Alan Lepp, three coaches who have assisted Swanson this season with PAYHA's Mites and Learn to Skate programs. After practice, the ice is home to many pick-up games.

"PAYHA's goal was to make the rink better so people would use it," Nelson said. "On the flipside, there hasn't been any negative to it. The people aren't just utilizing it; they're treating it with respect. New ice is priority number one for the board right now."

With little more than a couple nets and a zamboni, PAYHA created a viable and successful, early program for Perham kids who want to play hockey and have done so on their own dime. The need for more and bigger ice is a project still in formation.

"For the program and the city a joint venture would be best," Nelson said. "We want the community to know it's something they can use."

With the cold weather this year, ice conditions in Perham have been excellent and the going has been a little easier for PAYHA thanks to Chris Mensing from Lakes Country Landscaping clearing snow.

"It was major job for us last year," Nelson said. "There isn't a dollar spent on this that isn't raised by the association," Nelson said. "It doesn't cost the city a dime."

What it does cost organizers is time and there is more of that to wait out until Perham sees a major jump in the hockey program.

One of the benefits of the program has been the continuing and burgeoning partnership with Detroit Lakes hockey, of which, the PAYHA program is now officially a feeder program.

"Our kids need game time," Nelson said. "To have a good relationship with (DL) is only going to help."

The Mites have been offered playing time during DL's Wednesday night in-house league. The kids intermingle with DL players and will get four more games during the remainder of the season.

"That's how we want it to be," Swanson said. "They've been extremely supportive."

With more and continued use of the lone ice sheet in town, what was once an idea for a new rink and a place for it is now starting to gather steam into near future plans for more ice.

"We have a need from this growth and that is more ice," Swanson said.

"We need a larger ice surface," Nelson said. "Ultimately, we'll start with outdoor and eventually grow into an indoor."

The board is currently completing research on how to best achieve the goal of more ice, but the small steps are never overlooked, even in the primordial planning of big ideas.

"This year the l2 skaters who couldn't stand up on skates are not using a chair anymore," Nelson said. "The bigger thing is the hockey culture we're creating."

Multiple grants are available from Minnesota Hockey and the Minnesota Wild, including the Xcel Energy grant, which provide funding for cities and towns statewide that are trying to create a hockey culture.

As an example, RBC Play Hockey has partnered with USA Hockey to allocate $1 million in funds for eligible grant applicants over the next year to shine the spotlight on the people and programs that help hockey happen in communities across North America. Grants will be awarded in the amount of $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000 to community hockey organizations, sports associations and hockey-minded individuals with great ideas to grow the game and keep hockey vital.

Which is the core thought process behind PAYHA's plans for hockey in Perham.

"This year resurrected Perham hockey," Nelson said. "This year has brought it full circle."

That circle stretches to maintaining the progress created with a positive season and year so far, but overriding that success is the reason the association was created.

"We're having fun," Swanson said. "We're organized better; we got the word out and made many school visits, which has given us a renewed energy after a strong start."

"I still don't know how we had 32 kids sign up this year," Nelson said. "We tried every way we could think of to get the word out. Our goal now is retaining."

Which should not be difficult looking at next year. The program will lose five skaters to the DL hockey program, as they move on from Mites.

"Now our focus is on retaining those 27 and how to get 20 more to sign up," said Nelson.

"There's hockey here; we just have to wake it up," Swanson said. "Before we were saying that as hope."

"We've opened it up now," Nelson said. "There is a lot of pressure on the board. We did what we said we were going to do."

The program installed by PAYHA is an interactive one hoping for participation from parents, many of whom, attend every practice the kids have.

"Some of the parents show up with skates," Swanson said. "Our parents are phenomenal. It's a family event."

Upon gaining acceptance to participate in Wednesday play with Detroit Lakes, the question to add another day of practice or replace a day with the DL trip was brought to parents of the participants.

"It was great for them to embrace it," Swanson said. "The parents are new to this too. We have fun doing it with our kids. That makes us feel like we're doing something right."

The PAYHA program was recently highlighted in Let's Play Hockey, a national publication and in that story, the need for equipment donations was made known and since publication three donations have been made to PAYHA from readers. If there is one thing a hockey program needs in its inception, it's donations.

"It's been a very rewarding year, especially for those of us who have been around since the beginning," Nelson said.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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