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Through Endless Support from the Community, Fremont, Nebraska, Turned into a Hockey Town

By Russell Jaslow, 04/05/24, 7:15PM MDT


Nebraska Warbirds are competing in the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships this week.

In 2003, the Fremont Flyers Youth Hockey program didn’t have a local rink to use. 

This year, the program sent the Nebraska Warbirds to the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 14U National Championships, and the Warbirds have been making some noise. 

The Warbirds have started 3-0 and will play Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the 1A Division against the St. Albans Leafs. 

It wasn't long ago that Fremont not only had no rink, but this Nebraska city of 27,000, located about 30 miles northwest of Omaha, had no ice culture.

“Hockey was perceived as a negative,” Angie Wyle, program director of Fremont Flyers Hockey, said. “Dangerous, expensive.”

They approached the growth process the only way they could — one small incremental step after another.

Thus, after the Sidner Ice Arena was built in 2004 — thanks to a donation left by Evelyn Sidner in remembrance of her daughter who loved to skate — the obvious first step was to educate the community.

“I started when the rink opened. We partnered with the local second grade classes,” Wyle said. “We provided them with a basic five-week learn to skate program. After they went through that, we had grant money to buy 40 sets of gear to loan them and got them hooked from there.”

From that initial program, 10 kids took up the offer to accept the gear and start learning how to play hockey. Now, the program has over 200 enrolled players.

The next incremental step was coaching. Thanks to nearby Omaha’s hockey teams, many players who came to play there fell in love with the area, and when their playing days ended, returned to raise a family.

Jeff Hoggan, head coach of the Fremont Warbirds (14U), is a prime example. Hoggan attended the University of Nebraska-Omaha from 1998-2002 and then spent 15 years bouncing around the AHL and NHL. Upon retiring, he and his wife always had the idea of returning.

Assistant coach Warren Peters played minor league hockey in Omaha, where he, too, met a local woman, before embarking onto the NHL. 

Peters returned to the area to start coaching this season.

Although they did have a team previously make it to the Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships, this is the first team which feels confident they can compete.

“This is one of the most competitive teams I’ve seen come through the program,” Wyle said. “The core group of ‘09s have been with Hoggan since the beginning.”

Hoggan added, “We tell the boys, get better every single day. We’re familiar with some of the teams. We got a desire to leave there with success.”

The team’s style mimics their coaches, who were third and fourth liners, scratching and clawing for everything they got in their hockey careers.

“Do the little things right,” Hoggan said. “Pace, tempo, energy. We got them believing they can do it amongst themselves. We motivate them by telling them they have to earn respect for Nebraska hockey.”

The Warbirds carry one goalie, Brayten Bauer, and he has been dominant in Amherst, N.Y., this week, stopping 48 of 51 shots against. Nehemiah O'Brien leads the team with five goals through three games.

No matter how the Warbirds finish in Amherst, New York, there will be more incremental steps needed for the program. The rink is owned and operated by the local YMCA, only about four in the country with such an arrangement.

However, the YMCA is talking about converting the rink for other uses; the hockey community has other plans.

The program started a Fund the Rink campaign with the aim to raise $2 million dollars for renovations and take over the facility from the YMCA. They need to replace the sand floor with concrete, shrink the Olympic size ice surface to NHL size, and replace the piping, to name the key needs. Currently, the Flyers have raised $1.2 million.

Outside of Wyle’s position and a few part-time college kids, the entire Fremont hockey program has been run by volunteers and parents, which Hoggan prefers. 

“I’m a small-town guy,” he said. “Something about the sense of community. There’s a reason they stayed with us.”

Every game of the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships will live stream exclusively on

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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