Now With a Plan In Place The Vision Has Come Alive
By Reba LaRose
Daytona Beach, home to sunshine and beautiful ocean views is becoming a main attraction for ice hockey in Central Florida.
One of the latest additions to the area’s hockey community is the expansion of youth hockey programs at the Daytona Ice Arena, as a result of a recent partnership with DME Sports Academy and a total of $1.5 million in upgrades.
As a part of the business merger with the rink, DME has managed upgrades for not only building renovations, but for front office efforts as well.
One of these upgrades was the appointment of new hockey director, Mackie Grimes, a former professional hockey player and coach.
Along with new front office additions, the DME partnership sparked the transformation of the Daytona Racers junior team into the Daytona Swamp Rabbits.
The Swamp Rabbits currently lead the Florida Division (18-81 of the USPHL and are ranked ninth in the Premier Conference.
Those are just some of the many changes that came to the ice in recent months at the Daytona Ice Arena. In the past, Daytona’s youth hockey programs were limited to only 10U and 12U teams.
This season, the rink introduced an 8U team to their growing youth program, giving more local kids the opportunity to learn and advance close to home for the first time.
“My main priority is growing the youth hockey out of [Daytona]. I was able to get an 8U program started right away. So next season I’m working towards having 8U all the way up to 16U. I’m working hard,” Grimes said.
In addition to the 12U, 10U, and 8U teams, Grimes also oversees the three adult leagues, the Racers youth travel league, as well as the newly launched Take a Shot at Hockey program geared towards school children throughout Volusia County.
The program hosts educational field trips to the Ice Arena to introduce students to the sport of hockey, both on and off the ice, providing new helmets and sticks to use during their time on the ice.
“What we’ll do is teach them about the ice, we teach them about the Zamboni and how everything works,” Grimes said. “Then we also give them an hour and a half to two hours of ice time for them to try hockey for free.”
So far, more than 100 school kids have participated in the Take a Shot at Hockey program, and each of them went home with more than smiles and fun memories, they all received an official Take a Shot at Hockey jersey.
No stranger to coaching youth hockey, Grimes brings his years of experience to the ice as he continues to pass along his knowledge to the next generations.
Grimes coached professional roller hockey for two years in Colorado after three years of playing the sport at the professional level.
His coaching then took him to youth ice hockey in Colorado where he coached 8U to 16U teams and was able to bring two National Finals championships home with his 140 ice hockey team.
Grimes’ skill coaching is built from his own experience playing hockey at the professional level for seven years.
“I moved to Daytona when I was 11. When I was 14, my brother was the equipment manager for the Sun Devils !Daytona’s former professional ice hockey team] when they started here. So, I started playing hockey with those guys with no experience ever playing hockey,” Grimes said.
“By the time I was 17, I ended up playing my first pro game, and after that I was able to go up and play juniors in Saskatchewan, Canada. I had a weird road to hockey, compared to a lot of people,” Grimes said, laughing.
Although he no longer plays professional hockey, Grimes continues to be an avid player as a goalie and a forward in Daytona’s adult hockey league.
While those at the Daytona Ice Arena have always worked towards the goal of expanding hockey programs in Florida, they have not always had the resources to do so.
Their partnership with DME has opened many doors for hockey players, figure skaters, and recreational skaters alike.
The sports academy provides the funding needed to organize and establish both educational and competitive youth hockey programs.
In a wave of progress and transformation, the Ice Arena is also establishing a youth house league, something that the rink has not yet been able to provide to young children around Volusia County.
“We are working hard to make youth hockey a priority in Daytona. Were trying to get people that are local here. We have a lot of people that five here in Daytona, and that live in Palm Coast that drive right past us to play at other rinks. I personally don’t understand why that should happen,” Grimes said.
Wanting to provide more opportunities for young people in Florida to enjoy hockey, Grimes has reached out to former Daytona hockey players to return to the Ice Arena and experience the new direction the rink has taken with its hockey programs on all levels.
With that, the ultimate goal is to grow hockey throughout the Daytona Beach and the Volusia County community.
“It’s more of a priority for us right now to produce better teammates than we are great hockey players. We want to produce great hockey players also, but hockey at some point will end for everybody,” Grimes said.