Passionate fan bringing high school hockey to Wake Forest
WAKE FOREST — Rich Garrett of the newly formed N.C. Scholastic Hockey Association is helping lay the groundwork to get a high school-based ice hockey league started with Wake Forest as its base of operations.
This will be the first state-wide hockey league where the players will directly represent their high schools rather than a travel team or club program. Garrett will serve as the president of this league and will also be the head coach of the Wake Forest High School team.
Garrett was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minn. and has played hockey since he was 5 years old. He wants to bring that same kind of energy and enthusiasm for the sport to North Carolina.
“I see that South Carolina has high school hockey and Virginia has it, so why doesn’t North Carolina have it?” Garrett pondered. “I talked to Steve Henley, the executive director of the Carolina Junior Hurricanes and he said that they tried doing it, but they couldn’t get enough support from schools or the N.C. High School Athletic Association. I told him to start out with clubs per school and then branch out from there.”
For the past six years, Garrett has been trying to get the high school hockey league off the ground and running. The COVID-19 pandemic set things back a bit, but now he’s ready to get an association going in time for the 2022 high school fall sports season.
With the U.S. Hockey Association, there has been a huge decline in Under-14 through Under-18 hockey club teams all along the east coast. Garrett’s plan is to see those numbers spike back up through his high school hockey league and Wake Forest has a chance to be a huge part of that.
There is already a hockey team that meets at The Factory in Wake Forest called the Carolina Junior Hurricanes. This is an ice hockey program that develops boys and girls from elementary school and through high school.
However, this program draws kids from all over the state and is part of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA). This club plays against teams from Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Greenville, Hillsborough, Wilmington and Winston-Salem. They also compete against clubs from South Carolina, such as Charleston and Columbia.
Garrett explained that the N.C. Scholastic Hockey Association will be different because it will be more local community-based and geared more toward the high school sports atmosphere.
“We’re trying to get a community-based high school league going,” Garrett said. “The Junior Hurricanes draw kids from all over the state. Kids in this league will represent Wake Forest, Apex or Raleigh. It’s a different feel to play for your high school than playing for a state-wide program.”
Right now, the biggest obstacle facing the start of this league is a host ice rink. The Polar Ice House in The Factory would be the perfect opportunity to promote Wake Forest High School hockey since it’s right down the road.
However, the owners of the facility have a longstanding partnership with the Junior Hurricanes and the CAHA. Garrett said negotiations have stalled with The Factory because of conflicting issues.
“Polar Ice House doesn’t want us to steal players from other associations to play for us,” Garrett said. “Our association is not that way. We want kids to play both. They can play for us during the fall and winter and then play for their other league during the offseason. I cannot make that provision. Hockey is expensive enough as it is. Since I’m having so many issues with Polar Ice House, I’m having to branch out and then work my way in back here to Wake Forest.”
Garrett owns the Northern Exposure Hockey Academy in Rolesville, but the facility is used only for small group training and is not big enough to hold team practices, let alone games.
As a back-up, Garrett has contacted the Cleland Ice Skating Rink at Fort Bragg to host practices and games there. They are willing to let Wake Forest use the facility, but it is a long 63-mile one-way drive from Wake Forest compared to less than 10 minutes to The Factory. Garrett said he will know by July where the Wake Forest team will have their host hockey rink.
Currently, Garrett has garnered enough interest from parents and high schools to start a 12-team league throughout the state. There’s enough support to have games played in Charlotte, Greensboro and Wilmington. He has been talking with people from South Carolina on how to build a successful hockey association. Eventually, he wants his hockey teams to play against South Carolina’s teams.
“I’ve gotten phenomenal feedback from parents,” Garrett said. “They are really pushing for it. I’m trying to create a buzz to get more support for high school hockey. The kids want to play in front of fans and get their names in the newspaper and stuff like that.”
Garrett’s son, Hunter, and his friend, Devin Dullum, will be student ambassadors at Wake Forest High School to create interest in joining the high school club team. All of the head coaches of the high school club sports will be U.S. Hockey sanctioned coaches.
The kids will have access to use high school facilities such as the weight room and outdoor track to help stay in shape throughout the season. Garrett has even mentioned that Wake Forest will be willing to let the teams borrow the school buses to travel from venue to venue.
“The students are going to have to pay for equipment and stuff like that for themselves to start out,” Garrett said. “I’m recognized as a 501(c) so I’ll take donations and parents can use that as a tax write-off. Wake Forest’s hockey club will be dictated by the rates of the ice rink they play at and other fees.”
Evaluations and team try-outs will start in August after the start of the school year. Practices will start the first week of October and the first game of the season will be played Friday Oct. 14.
The regular season will run through Feb. 24 with practices on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. There will be 18 regular season games played on Friday nights at 9 p.m. with 22 practices.
The playoffs for this league will start March 3, 2023 and run through March 11 with four playoff games played on Friday and Saturday nights.
The reason why the league is played during the fall and winter season is so a high school team from North Carolina will have a chance to compete in the High School Hockey National tournament held from March 23-27 at Wayzata, Minn.
“I’m really hoping Polar Ice House will work with us so we can get a chance to play high school hockey right here in Wake Forest,” Garrett said. “It will be great to get some recognition for the sport in our own local community.”
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