The tardy start to the men’s competitive hockey schedule has been the result of scheduling challenges for players on the team’s roster, said manager and longtime Lizard Head player Teddy Errico.
“We’ve definitely been challenged with our overall numbers,” he said. The team has lost a few players from last year while others have been unable to devote much time to the team due to family and work obligations. “But better late than never,” he added.
Returning to the rink for the team’s 2007 debut are Lizard Head standouts Mike McIntyre and Rick Hurwitz, both of whom played in college and have been Lizard Head devotees for some time. Also returning this season is longtime player Mike Fenton, one of the original Lizard Heads.
Representing the younger side of the team are returning players Rory Cowie and Luke Fitzpatrick, who have brought new life to the team for the past few winters.
“We’ll have a little of the old and a little of the new, and hopefully we’ll be able to put it together to play some great hockey this weekend,” Errico said.
One of the most noticeable changes to the team’s roster this year is the absence of goal tender Chris Neylan, who after many years in the net has decided to sit this season out. Errico has stepped in to replace Neylan as the Lizard Heads’ goalie, but that has left a hole in the team’s defense.
“There are just not as many young people moving to town and joining the team as there used to be,” said Errico. “And those who live here are often working too hard to travel and commit to games and practices. Telluride is a cost-prohibitive place to be.”
A similar plummet in overall numbers has taken place in the town’s broomball league, which dropped to only five teams this season. While the shrinking pool of players interested and available for the broomball and men’s hockey league is a concern for town league sports fans, other recreational teams’ numbers have remained steady and even grown.
The Box Canyon Beavers’ women’s hockey team boasts similar numbers this season as in the past few years, with most members returning players. (The Beavers will play the Crested Butte Red Ladies this weekend in Crested Butte.) The winter sports scene’s big success story of late is, of course, the coed hockey league, which actually grew from four to five teams between last year’s inaugural year to this winter.
When asked if the coed league’s recent success has adversely affected the men’s league’s overall numbers, Errico was doubtful.
“All the coed league has done is brought people in to play hockey that never would have before, so that hasn’t hurt us,” he said.
In places like Crested Butte, the town has more than enough players to field a competitive men’s hockey league. In fact, Crested Butte boasts a total of three competitive men’s teams, an over 35 men’s team, as well as a successful coed league. The difference? Errico pointed to the proximity of Gunnison and Western State College, which are chock full of young people with more spare time to give to a recreational team.
Errico is convinced Telluride’s changing player demographic (read: fewer ski bums and more working, family men) is to blame for Telluride’s drop in men’s hockey numbers. Until Telluride becomes a less expensive place to make a living, lagging registration in at least some arenas may be an ongoing plight of the community’s sports leagues.
Despite the team’s late start, Errico is expecting the Lizard Heads to have a full ten-game schedule. “We would love to see people come down and freeze their buns off while supporting Lizard Heads hockey,” he said.
The Lizard Heads will again play at home next weekend against Durango, at 8 p.m. on Saturday and at 8 a.m. on Sunday. Telluride will also host a Crested Butte hockey bonanza in February, when all three CB men’s teams will play in a weekend tournament with the Lizard Heads. An end-of-season men’s hockey tournament is scheduled for mid-March.