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On the ice: Local kids benefiting from South Dakota hockey boom

While the National Hockey League’s (NHL) centennial season has been underway since early October, the South Dakota Amateur Hockey Association’s (SDAHA) youth seasons have just started. Like a number of programs across the state, the Sioux Falls Flyers youth hockey association has exploded in recent years, and grew to the point it had to split into East and West programs a few seasons ago. The opening of the three-sheet Scheels Ice Plex provided area ice enthusiasts with a state-of-the-art facility in which to practice and play, and is now so booked that the region isn’t far away from needing another similar facility just to keep up with the demand.

Sioux Falls residents aren’t the only kids filtering into the Flyers program. Families from the surrounding communities are joining in on the action, as well. Dave and Alison Heibult, and their three boys, have been involved with the Sioux Falls Youth Hockey Association since 2011. Oldest son Alex, 10, is a Squirt, Ben, 8, plays as a Mite, while youngest son Anthony, 5, is just starting out at the Atom level. All three boys attend school in Lennox.

“We started attending [Sioux Falls] Stampede hockey games, which piqued Alex’s interest in playing, so we signed him up,” said Alison Heibult. “His brothers followed suit.”

One reason the sport has become so popular is due to the success of the Stampede. The United States Hockey League is the highest level of Under-20 Junior Hockey in the country, and regularly produces top NHL draft picks every June. Stampede NHL alumni include such names as Detroit Red Wings forward Thomas Vanek, Washington Capitals forward and Team USA Sochi Olympics standout T.J. Oshie, and Minnesota Wild defenseman Nate Prosser among others.

Another local USHL team is the Sioux City Musketeers, and both Sioux Falls and Sioux City have players that are projected to be first round selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

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