The new Pason Centennial Arena expansion is expected to take some pressure off of minor hockey in town.

Okotoks Minor Hockey Association Operations Coordinator Jamie Steer says they've been utilizing every resource they can, in and around Okotoks, to make sure players have practice ice as the association has grown over the years.

But that has meant practices in the early morning hours, late into the evening, shared ice and trips out of town to rinks in Stavely, Blackie and Black Diamond, both indoor and outdoor.

Steer says the new, NHL-sized ice surface at the Pason Centennial Arena expansion will be heavily used by Okotoks minor hockey and that will eventually mean improvements in practice schedules, the number of games hosted in town and opportunities for player development.

He points out that he hopes to cut the Black Diamond outdoor ice from regularly scheduled practices, but says it won't entirely mean the end of out-of-town practices.

"We'll cut back on the Stavely next year, we'll cut back on the Blackie next year, but I don't want to lose grip on those rinks totally," he explains. "Because we're not totally out of it yet. We're growing by a hundred kids a year and it's only going to be a year or two before we're in trouble again. And that's just a fact of a young community like Okotoks and a real good hockey community."

There are currently 1,475 players carded in the Okotoks Minor Hockey Association on 77 teams, ranging from Initiation to Midget-aged players.

"You want every kid to be able to play that wants to play in Okotoks," he says. "You also don't want to risk the development, which I think we've risked the last couple of years because the practice ice is just not quality practice ice."

He adds that the new ice surface is "definitely needed and definitely overdue."

Steer says OMHA is looking forward to moving into a permanent home at the expansion, including an office and meeting room, likely sometime next season.

The Pason Centennial Arena Expansion is set to open on January 31, with a grand opening celebration coordinated to OMHA's Initiation tournament March 3.

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