When the kids of Dorchester Youth Hockey take to the ice in this season they will notice some significant changes to their surroundings. During the off-season the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) which operates their home ice, the Devine Memorial rink on Morrissey Boulevard, was able to make marked improvements. It might even feel like a different place.
The biggest change was repaving the once dilapidated parking lot outside the Neponset rink. The parking lot was full of bumps and impassable sections caused by sinking landfill around the foundation pylons from an older rink.
But last summer, after some pressure from state Rep. Martin Walsh and state Senator Jack Hart, the DCR dug up the parking lot, cut down the pylons and repaved it in a smooth, street-hockey-ready surface.
The next steps came on the inside, where the building's plumbing had been a major concern in the past few seasons.
"Over the last couple of years, we had problems with plumbing and because of it we have to go without restrooms at some points in the season," said Tim Murray, president of DYH. "It got to the point where we had to bring in porta-potties at the end of the last season as we got to the playoffs, just to ensure we wouldn't have to shut down the rink."
Not the best conditions for a major youth program serving well over 300 kids throughout the fall and winter seasons, from young ones learning to stand on the ice to those honing their puck handling skills. But the state was able to dig up the interior floors and fix the faulty pipes.
The DCR also installed energy-efficient bulbs and light sources and a new sound system. Murray is glad to have DYH's home rink in better condition, but he is still worried about the future of the Divine and other urban rinks owned by the DCR. Recently Murray had felt a push to privatize the rinks, a move that he feels would leave his program in a difficult funding position.
"I used to joke that Neponset is going to end up privatized through neglect. They will neglect us to the point that we will throw our arms up in neglect and ask for a private company to come in," Murray said. "But I think we have turned the corner. I don't think we can declare victory yet, but there has been a realization that these remaining urban rinks are going to remain under the umbrella of the DCR and as an agency they are going to start making the necessary renovations."
Wendy Fox, spokesperson for the DCR, could not immediately respond to requests for comment.
For now, Murray is focused on the start of a new season and the excitement that the kids and parents have for getting back to the ice. This past week, DYH teams competed in the annual Mayor's Cup tournament against other Boston City League teams, and now they will start the traveling teams and their in-house program as well. On tap this season are 17 travel teams and probably a set of four teams that play at the Devine in the House League and hopefully compete for a Dorchester Beanpot. Murray is entering his third season as president. He hopes the league brings more than just a chance to play hockey.
"It is that sort of hometown connection. One thing that has gone on within youth hockey recently is these select and elite teams, but as a result they aren't playing with the kid next door anymore," Murray said. "One thing about Dorchester is, it still provides that for them."
At least one parent agrees with Murray: Jessica Sheehan, whose son Andrew is a 10 year-old in his fifth year in the program.
"He gets a ton out of it, and I mean Dorchester in particular in terms of families and stuff. It's great for me and for him. Friendships and people he has met are great," Sheehan said. "I think it's fabulous. It is such a long season and at the end of the season it's like 'Oh my god, will hockey ever end?' But come July you miss it."