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On the ice: Tea 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 could use another similar facility just to keep up with the demand.

Sioux Falls residents aren’t the only kids filtering into the Flyers program. The City of Tea has had a few families participating in area youth hockey, and one local hockey mom, Chantel Olson, estimates the number of Tea players in the program to be as high as 10-15 between the ages of four to 18.

Another Tea hockey mom, Shannon Zell-Fanning, has two children participating with the Flyers this season. Her son, Nathan, is a varsity player for Sioux Falls Flyers West, while daughter Sage is just starting out as a Mite. Zell-Fanning isn’t sure on the total number of Tea kids in the program, but said there are at least three playing at the varsity level.

“I’ve seen it grow quite a bit,” she said, speaking of the growth in the sport’s popularity in the region. “I have a first year Mite and a Varsity player, and the amount of kids at the lower level has grown a lot compared to when [Nathan] was a Mite.”

One reason the sport has become so popular is due to the success of the United States Hockey League’s (USHL) Sioux Falls Stampede. The USHL 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.

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