Pete Carlson is the senior director of ice arena operations and programs for the National Sports Center Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota — one of the largest rink complexes in the world. To some extent, he got there by accident.
Fresh out of college and on a path to become a physical education teacher, he saw a job posting for a Zamboni driver at a small local rink that was being built. When he showed up, the person he interviewed with told him they really needed a manager. Carlson didn’t think he was qualified to take the job, but his wife Jennifer told him to take it. That one decision has sent Carlson’s life on a trajectory very different from the one he first imagined for himself.
What Carlson thought would be a short stint has turned into his life’s work and led him to a passion for volunteering and growing adult hockey in the United States.
That life’s work has been recognized with the John Beadle Adult Member of the Year Award. The award is presented to someone who makes tireless contributions to the hockey community as an adult player or volunteer. In 2020, it was renamed in honor of John Beadle, who served as vice president of USA Hockey and chair of the organization’s Adult Council for 27 years.
Promoting adult hockey has a practical side — rinks need their sheets filled and adults are willing to have ice time at 10 or 11 p.m. at night. That’s one of the reasons Carlson started paying extra attention to the demographic. But the longer Carlson was immersed in the hockey community day in and day out, the more he noticed how organized youth hockey is and how that same level of commitment was not put into adult teams and leagues.
Hockey, Carlson points out, is a sport driven by volunteers. Youth leagues had boards and hierarchies in place, but the adults did not. He was attending local youth association meetings to make sure that he, as the rink operator, was providing what they needed. He became a sponge, learning from all the dedicated and knowledgeable people in the community around him.
"I’m just bringing information that I already knew. It is just sharing ideas,” he said. “I’ve been around so many good people that I’ve seen what they do and seen their passion to keep the game going and the importance that all these different people have at all these different levels of hockey.”
Hockey players are youth players for a far smaller portion of their lives than they are adults, Carlson notes, but the focus from teams to associations all the way up to USA Hockey tended to be on those 12 or so years as kids. Programming for, appreciating and committing to adult hockey is necessary for the continued growth of hockey in America. So, he started sharing the things that he’d learned in his job and around the sport with those around him.
As a board member of the USA Hockey Adult Council for the past 15 years, Carlson has been integral in shining a light on adult hockey in the U.S. and helping groups around the country organize adult leagues and associations.
Throughout his career, Carlson has honed the art of observation. It’s a byproduct of being able to respond to issues quickly at the Super Rink. He is constantly learning and taking in ideas and feedback and seeing what the people around him are doing.
“I’m so grateful for all the people that I’ve gotten to watch and witness how they conduct themselves in public settings,” he said. “There are so many people I’ve learned from. You don’t learn it overnight. Thank you to the thousands of people that don’t even know I was watching them and learning from them”
There’s nothing to do with the mass of information he’s gathered other than share it, Carlson said. And he hopes that other volunteers across hockey do the same thing with their collective knowledge, because the next generation is watching them and will take their cues on how to act.
Though he is careful to warn against taking on too much, Carlson said he hopes more people around hockey get in the habit of saying “yes.” To coaching, or becoming an official, or becoming a travel coordinator, or billeting, or whatever things your local group needs. You might find something you love. You might get a completely different opportunity. But first, he said, you have to say “yes.”
“The word ‘yes’ is so powerful because it leads to a new opportunity, a new chance, new group of people to meet and learn from,” Carlson said.
“If you say yes, that’s where opportunity comes about.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.