Four years ago, Head coach Tim Winegard revived the Colorado Mesa University hockey program that had been dormant for ages. Trying to get people in the Western Slope to play proved to be a challenge in itself, let alone the daunting task of rebuilding a program from nothing.
Two years into the program’s resurgence came two men from the Midwest ready to improve the hockey culture in Grand Junction, and they struck gold with a way to get the interest of the community.
“Going into our first full season we wanted to instill more of a hockey culture here,” captain Chase Engdahl said. “Just from past experiences to get involved and create that community around hockey is to do some fundraiser event. We thought up some ideas and liked Pink the Rink. I’ve seen some success with it in other organizations. From there we had to start hitting the pavement.”
At a backyard barbecue hosted by Winegard, Engdahl and teammate Tony Falcon, the team decided to create an event their community could rally behind in Pink the Rink, a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. A great idea, but one that faced challenges early on.
“It was difficult getting sponsors for the event early on,” Falcon said. “It was just an idea in our head that we were trying to put on. We didn’t have anything to back it when we try to go to different places and try to get sponsors.”
The team found a sponsor in U.S. Bank. With their financial help, the event was able to take place. Combined with all the shirt sales, raffle tickets for the special jerseys worn at the game and donations, the team raised $10,000 for St. Mary’s hospital, the largest donation sum outside of charity events held by the hospital staff itself.
“The charity that the boys picked, it is a community charity,” Winegard said. “It doesn’t go to cancer research. It doesn’t go where who knows where the money is siphoned off to. This goes directly to people in the Western Slope community who need help.”
Helping the local community is what the hockey team does better than any other team at Colorado Mesa University does. Not only with Pink the Rink, but with the coat drive as well, which began thanks to Winegard’s wife four years ago. As a third grade teacher, she noticed kids who didn’t want to go out to recess during the cold months because they didn’t have a jacket. She approached Winegard with the idea of waving five dollars off a game ticket if the person brought a coat to donate. Year one brought around 70 coats. Last year the total amount of coats donated was 376.
“I think the community is happy to do things like that again because they can see where it’s actually going,” Winegard said. “It’s going out to a little child who doesn’t want to go out to recess because he’s cold.”
Servants of the community one and all, the team raises money to battle breast cancer and give kids in need proper attire for the winter months. This team acknowledges while being on the rink is their passion, the responsibility of being a player representing CMU goes past their games at Glacier Ice Arena.
“Being part of a team means being part of something bigger than yourself,” Winegard said. “That’s how you win in sports, whether it’s hockey or any other sport; but that’s how you win in life. You have to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Yourself doesn’t come first. You are here to serve other people.”
The hockey team never puts itself first. That’s why CMU students can see them huddled around to foldable tables in the plaza with their new jerseys on for this year’s Pink the Rink event selling merchandise they worked hard to get.
None of the profit made from sales of it goes back to the program or players. It all goes back to the community. Fans should cheer on a team that represents a community in a positive light. It doesn’t get more positive than what the hockey team does for the community it represents.