The move makes sense in every way.
The Pleasant Prairie Rampage of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League had several Illinois players driving to the southeastern corner of Wisconsin for practices and games while the Crystal Ice House, home of the Crystal Lake Yellow Jackets youth program, had space to play.
Rampage general manager Jim Pfaffinger and FireWagon Hockey executive director Casey Van Damme, who heads the Ice House and Yellow Jackets program, decided to relocate the Rampage to the Ice House starting this MnJHL season. The relocation was approved by the league’s board of directors and the Crystal Lake Rampage will open the season in September.
“I’ve been with Casey since he’s been coaching,” Pfaffinger said. “When the opportunity arose, I asked him (about moving to Crystal Lake) and he said it would be a great way to grow the (Yellow Jackets) program.”
Van Damme, who also coached Prairie Ridge’s team for several seasons, said the move will provide options for local players.
“It’s a great thing for our youth program and others to play after high school or midgets,” Van Damme said. “These are add-on things we’ve never had around here. Anyone can try out, it’s another avenue for kids to play junior hockey here instead of going somewhere else.”
The Rampage program is Tier III, the lowest junior level, where players pay to play. Pfaffinger said the Rampage still will be looking for billet families to help with players from farther away, but many can live at home within a close driving distance from the rink.
The MnJHL teams practice during the week and play games Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The Rampage will open the season Saturday, Sept. 6, and play 42 league games in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.
“It had a lot to do with our facility and getting better times,” Van Damme said. “The Rampage was getting 90 percent of their players from Illinois.”
Pfaffinger, whose sons Joe and Kyle played for the Rampage, hopes players coming out of high school might consider playing for the Rampage, attending McHenry County College for two years and hoping to wind up at an NCAA Division III team if they still want to play.
“We’re going to put five to 10 kids into some kind of college,” said Pfaffinger, in his second year with the Rampage. “We want them doing something, going to MCC or doing college courses online. We want them to get straight A's.”