Pucks for a purpose at Aspen Ice Garden | AspenTimes.com

Pucks for a purpose at Aspen Ice Garden

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Chuck Carlson is gone but never forgotten.

His no. 11 jersey still hangs near center ice in the rafters at the Aspen Ice Garden, where he once worked sharpening skates. His first name is embedded in the rink ice, marking the spot where he scored the winning goal in the 2002’s men’s hockey league championship.

It’s been more than five years since he succumbed to cancer at just 36, but De Carlson’s memories of her husband are as clear as ever.

“He was such a simple man at heart,” she said Friday. “It was all about being a good person and about hockey. … He would’ve played every day if he could.”

She has endeavored to keep that passion, one forged on Minnesota ponds and rinks then renewed in Aspen, alive. Sunday, nearly 100 children of all ages will take part in the first Chuck Carlson Memorial 3-on-3 Hockey Tournament.

“Chuck always wanted to give back,” De Carlson said. “I don’t know a lot about hockey, but I’m carrying that passion torch for him.”

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The tournament’s basic premise: Provide a free avenue for children who wish to play hockey but might not have the wherewithal, financial or otherwise. In years past, Carlson helped form free clinics to introduce children to the game and to generate scholarship money.

The idea came from her husband’s experiences, Carlson said. Like most youngsters in Minnesota, the allure of hockey piqued Chuck Carlson’s interest at an early age (a photo of him in skates at age 9 graces the Aspen Junior Hockey website and event flyers). But when his family moved from the Midwest to Montana, opportunities to continue playing were virtually nonexistent.

It wasn’t until after he graduated from the University of Colorado and settled in Aspen, where he was a ski instructor and later worked his way up the Aspen Skiing Co. ranks, that Chuck Carlson was reintroduced to the sport.

The love affair resumed, De Carlson remembered.

“Well, I’m not going to say [hockey] was equal to me, but it was very close,” she joked. “He worked at the Ice Garden because he loved being at the rink. He always wanted to be there.”

It was on that ice that Chuck Carlson first felt like he had a pill lodged in his chest during a game, De Carlson said. He took himself to the emergency room, where doctors quickly assuaged fears of a serious issue.

For months they dismissed the ailment as asthma or acid reflux, Carlson said. Then they discovered the tumor.

“Basically, we got married and seven months later we found out he had cancer,” she said.

Eight months later, De Carlson was by Chuck’s side when he passed away.

“You wait your whole life to get married and then it lasts only 15 months,” she said. “I was just getting to know him.”

Carlson said she experienced an epiphany of sorts as she sat by her husband’s side during those last few hours. She thought about hockey and how Chuck was denied the chance to play in Montana because of a lack of area resources. She thought about the children Chuck loved to help, both on the slopes and at the rink.

Her husband didn’t have the opportunity to continue skating. Carlson decided the best way to honor her husband was to do everyone possible to provide that opportunity to others.

“No child should be denied the chance to play,” she said. “If you want to play, we want to help you.”

Carlson first considered raising money to buy a van to help offset the costs of travel for players and their families. Then came the idea to host free clinics.

Chris Lockrem, director of hockey for AJH, never met Chuck Carlson. Still, he was eager to help out.

“I know he was an enthusiast of the sport and worked with the city and the kids and enjoyed the game for all the right reasons,” Lockrem said Friday. “For anyone who is involved in junior hockey, we love to support the kids and help out with whatever is needed. We create our own scholarships through our own funding, but whenever we have a private person wish to get involved, that helps out a ton.

“The clinics gave everybody an opportunity they didn’t have before, and they also didn’t have to spend money to see if they liked it.”

The clinics had modest success. Carlson and Lockrem decided to inject some life into the event this time around in an attempt to generate more interest.

Lockrem, who grew up playing in Cleveland, Ohio, came up with the idea for a 3-on-3 event. He knew a lot about the subject: Lockrem and two of his high school friends compete annually in the World Pond Hockey Championships in Ontario.

“This is going to be more grassroots. There will be no goalies, and it will give that pond hockey feel in a rink environment,” he said. “So many times players are bombarded with practice and parents and trying to make teams. This is a no pressure environment. … This is all in the spirit of Chuck’s appreciation for and love of hockey. I think he’d support the idea.

“This is the first year we’ve got interest from older kids. The high school kids are really excited about it, and we’re going to have them referee the younger kids’ games.”

While the event is free to participants, there is one stipulation: Everyone who takes part must provide a silent auction item. In years past, donations have included everything from old bikes to offering to wash a car, walk a dog, even cook dinner, Carlson said.

“This isn’t about money,” she added. “It’s about what’s inside you, what you can do to help others.”

The kids take the ice Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, an adult tournament will run from 1 to 5 p.m. In addition, the weekend will feature a bake sale and family barbecue.

The 100 children expected to participate is twice the number that took part in 2007’s clinic, Lockrem said. Still, the clinic and accompanying auction generated enough money to provide scholarships to 10 kids, Carlson added.

The increased interest has Carlson looking forward to the future. And she said she can’t wait to follow the action from the stands this weekend.

She knows Chuck will be watching, too.

“I know he’s smiling right now,” Carlson said.

For more information or to register, contact Jackie at 920-7081, or jnjayers2000@yahoo.com.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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