Perhaps it’s the feeling of being in the spotlight, but whatever the reason, in any outside sport, it’s exciting to play under the lights. Now, with the help of the Ellwood City Borough, Stiefel Hockey can now host nighttime games.
On Sunday, the lights that were installed just weeks ago were turned on at the Stiefel Park dek hockey rink for the first time in years and games were played after sundown.
For the past year, Stiefel Hockey organizers, specifically Caleb Cragle, Don Featherstun and Sean Coonfare, have been attending monthly borough council meetings discussing as well as requesting the installation of lights.
Cragle told council that lights would enable teams to play games after sunset, which would lessen the possibility of heat-related issues during the league’s summer season.
As many would guess, playing in 90 degree heat while wearing padding is not too healthy.
The necessity for lights wasn’t solely for safety reasons, it was also because of the size of the league – there was not enough daylight to play all the daily games.
Some contribute it to the Pittsburgh Penguins of the early 1990s, namely Mario Lemieux, while others say it was the more recent Penguins and Sidney Crosby — but regardless of why, it’s a consensus that hockey is now a big-time sport in western Pa.
This resurgence of hockey enthusiasm is evident at Stiefel Park. Since the old tennis courts were changed into a dek hockey rink in 1997, the league has grown dramatically and the skill level has increased considerably.
In just one year, from the 2010 summer league to this year’s league, the number of teams has increased by two. According to the league’s website, there are 16 teams separated into two divisions, equaling an approximate total of 180 players.
Cragle, who plays and referees, also knows firsthand of the talent that has played and continues to play at Stiefel Park. Most notably, Stephen Johns of Wampum, who was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks last year, played and refereed at Stiefel.
“We continue to have great players in the league. It’s hard to say that we don’t have another NHL-bound player in the league,” Cragle said.
He continued to say that everyone in the league encourages spectators and enjoys seeing new faces in the crowd.
“We as referees keep the foul language to a minimum so we can attract fans of all ages,” Cragle said. “We were excited as fans filled the bleachers at our most recent set of night games.”
In April, borough workers began assessing the area around the rink to determine where to put the light poles. Although there were previous poles in place, they could not reuse them because they had become deteriorated – in fact, one had already fallen.
After the installation of the new poles was complete, lights were put in place atop the poles on June 10 and they were ready for use. This past Sunday, games were extended after the sun had set for the first time in years.
“During the most recent night matchup, we counted approximately 50 to 60 people watching,” Cragle said. “A lot more fans come out to the night games, and players enjoy playing under the lights.”
Borough Manager Dom Viccari said that the total installation, including the poles, lights, electrical work, etc. cost the borough $3,696, and he said that the league will help pay for the energy usage.
Stiefel Hockey games are played on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays, and now with the addition of lights, will be played until the park closes at 11 p.m. Games on the weekdays begin at 7 p.m. and weekends at 5 p.m.
The summer season consists of approximately 16 games plus playoffs. The regular season continues until the end of August and playoffs begin in September.
League information, news, schedule, and stats can be found at the Stiefel Hockey website, StiefelHockey.com.
“We’re thankful that the borough got these lights up,” Cragle said. “Hockey at Stiefel is exciting right now and will only continue to get better.”