When Al Pedersen retired from the NHL after eight seasons, he was searching for his next calling.
That happened about a decade later in 2006 when he became the facility manager at the Monument Ice Rinks in Monument, Colorado. Pedersen helped build an adult league program and has watched it flourish over the years.
Pedersen is passionate in teaching the game to new players in the hope for lifelong retention. He’s also become instrumental in coaching youth hockey players, running the Al Pedersen’s Little Rookies program.
For his volunteer efforts in growing the game, Pedersen was named the USA Hockey John Beadle Adult Member of the Year Award winner.
“I was surprised when I received the call,” said the 55-year-old Pedersen. “It’s been a long journey. Just excited — it’s more of a team effort. It all starts with [Monument Ice Rinks] owner Andrew Sherman.”
Pedersen is quick to deflect credit for the Monument Ice Rinks’ growth, but don’t be mistaken, he is a key component.
Pederson — who played for four teams, most notably the Boston Bruins for two Stanley Cup runs, during his NHL stint as a defenseman from 1986-94 — started to build up the adult league in 2006. Now, the league has six divisions, over 600 skaters and 60 teams.
“That’s the most gratifying thing in all this is,” Pedersen said. “Especially the people that have never played hockey at the youth level, they’re starting at age 30, 40, even 50, and to see them develop and really enjoy the game and become NHL fans is very gratifying.”
Scott McVicker was one of those players who didn’t start hockey until later in life. When he moved to Denver from the Detroit area, McVicker credits Pedersen for helping him get on the ice and stick with it even after he got frustrated early on.
“He started doing these clinics specifically for people like me that have always had a passion for hockey, have wanted to play ice hockey,” McVicker said. “But when you go out and play in a rec league, you don’t get the repetition of the skills development that you get growing up playing hockey. So, he did these clinics.”
McVicker has known Pedersen for about 15 years and knows he doesn’t get nearly as much credit as he deserves for the job he has done.
“A lot of the people my age, I’m 55, guys in their 30s, 40s, 50s, take a lot of stuff for granted,” McVicker said. “[They] don’t have that awe of a child’s perspective — because he works with the kids, too, and the kids just love him. My grandson goes out there and Big Al’s all he can talk about between Saturdays. The adults take everything for granted and they have no idea how much effort he puts forth. I think he’s stuck with it because of people like me that got huge a benefit out of it late in our lives and said, ‘I’m not doing it for the recognition or the accolades. I’m doing it because I know what it does for the people that are benefitting from it.’”
Pedersen faces a unique situation for an adult hockey league. With Monument just outside of Colorado Springs, home of Air Force and Army bases, there is always a large number of transient players each season.
The players love competing in the adult hockey league because Pedersen makes it fun for everyone.
“It’s a social league. People want to come out and enjoy their evening,” Pedersen said. “It’s really the stress reliever almost — get out of the house and get away from their day-to-day grind work. People really, really look forward to coming to the rink once or twice a week.”
Pedersen and Monument Ice Rinks have created an interesting two-tier membership option for players in the adult league. In the Tier II option, players who want to skate on just one team once a week for all five league seasons pay $50 month. The Tier I option allows players to be on more than one team and they’ll pay a $99 fee per month. Along with skating in league games, these players are also able to participate in skills clinics, pickup hockey games and a few other features.
“A lot of players are on multiple teams,” Pedersen said. “There’s probably over 100 people playing on a minimum of two teams.”
Along with his love for teaching adult players, Pedersen is the 8U coordinator for the in-house Colorado Rampage youth club. He is also the Grow-the-Game coordinator for the youth players.
Pedersen loves working with the adult players but has as much passion for the development of the young skaters.
“We joke around, ‘People with Coach Al, from diapers to Depends,’” Pedersen said laughing. “A lot of kids that I started out with are now joining the adult league. Our retention has been tremendous.”
Pedersen is always happy to offer advice to rink directors around the country on how to build successful adult and youth programs. So, what has been the key for Pedersen and the Monument Ice Rinks personnel in taking big strides?
“Making it a family-type atmosphere, getting the kids involved and have the parents involved,” Pedersen said. “It goes a long way when somebody starts their kid out at age four knowing nothing about the sport and then they start playing it themselves, it really helps them understand things. Again, I think it’s everyone having an enjoyable experience each and every day and being consistent. Communication is huge. Communication through emails, calls, texts. We really get to know our members.”
McVicker believes it was the perfect storm when the opportunity presented itself to Pedersen to come into Monument Ice Rinks and change the direction of the programs.
“What do you kind of do after a professional athletic career that didn’t result in enough security to call it a day? I think it saved him,” McVicker said. “The perfect storm was, what does a guy like Al Pedersen with the passion he has do that doesn’t leave him feeling empty in life? He found that with Monument.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.