Planet Claire has pink air. All the trees are red. — B52s “Planet Claire”
The more time goes by, the more I love hockey and realize just how much it has helped me navigate life. And how much fun it is to zip down the rink with the air flying by your face.
Oh, and the joyous feeling of the puck sliding perfectly across the ice or the sport court or the cement.
There are sheets of ice and sheets of “ice.” What I mean by that is you can skate on a pond and the ice can be so beautiful and glassy if the conditions are just right.
Or you can be waiting in the dressing room as the Zamboni makes its turns, scraping old ice and flooding water for a new glassy surface.
Or, lucky me, you can show up at Kapolei Inline Hockey Arenas, where there is a new sheet of “ice” not only every day, but every second. The IceCourt (sport court) surface is always the same. No need freezing temperatures or a Zamboni.
I took the photo below, thinking of that very thing a few years ago to remind me how fortunate I am t0 play the game I love.
Clean “ice” every day.
About a week ago, I wrote a story about the many caring people coming together to make inline hockey successful on Kauai in the 1990s: This Hockey Startup In The Early 1990s Skyrocketed And Enriched The Lives Of Many. In that article, I promised to also make another post, a re-publishing of a story I wrote for The Garden Island newspaper just as the sport was gaining momentum.
And so, below is a photo of the layout of that story from Feb. 27, 1994.
And here is the text of that article:
By Nick Abramo
When I was an 11-year-old kid, my older brother became a hockey coach and got me started in an instructional league. I noticed there were extra team shirts, so I asked him if my 9-year-old best friend could play.
I thought my brother would say no, but he said OK. I immediately called up my friend, and before you know it, he ran to my house, ripped his shirt off and put his new hockey shirt on.
We were the Red Wings. The shirts were red with small white and blue stripes, and very simple. But it didn’t matter. We were on a hockey team!
Right now, for over 80 kids on Kauai, mostly ages 6-14, the excited feeling of being on a hockey team for the first time is the same. Roller hockey, played on inline skates, has begun here, and if the kids have anything to say about it, it’s here to stay.
All you have to do is look at the kids’ glowing faces. They’re into it, and they can’t get enough of it. And every kid that happens to be at the park near a hockey game will surely check it out and watch intently. It looks like a lot of fun.
And it is a lot of fun.
It’s a situation that’s tried and true throughout the hockey world — once you pick up a stick and play, you don’t want to put it down. For the most part, once a hockey player, always a hockey player.
Hockey doesn’t give you the same kind of adrenaline rush as surfing, but you get a similar feeling of freedom when you’re gliding down the ice and you start to shred by digging your skates into the mass under your feet. You shift around another player then you let go a slap shot and the puck flies through air, clangs off the goal pipe and sneaks through a small opening between the goalie and the pipe. You raise your arms in triumph — not because you’re egocentric, but because you’re truly psyched and overwhelmed about what just happened and there is no other way to relate it to others in the immediate area.
Hockey is similar to basketball and soccer — it’s a team sport and you’re trying to score a goal. Hockey doesn’t have as many stoppages in play as basketball, and with less men involved than soccer, affords ore individuals to be centrally involved.
Hockey is usually played on ice with five skaters per side and a goalie, but roller hockey is played on pavement with four skaters and a goalie per side. A plastic ball is used instead of a puck.
Hockey on Kauai began in December 1992 after Hurricane Iniki. I had visited my best friend the previous January and I had passed the ball around with his 4-year-old son.
I realized I missed hockey, and insisted that he send me a hockey stick. The stick (a Sherwood P.M.P.) came in November, so I immediately ran a notice in the paper looking for other possible players.
The response was good. Several people from Canada — where ice hockey originated — called and so did others who had played on the mainland. Pretty soon, we had about 21 people (mostly adult men with some teenagers, some kids, and one woman) so we formed a three-team league. We were playing a form of the game called street hockey, where players run on sneakers instead of skate.
We played games at the Wilcox School basketball court and the Kapaa tennis courts before switching to the Wailua Houselots practice tennis court. There were also some summer pick-up games at PMRF with some of the interested Navy and civilian personnel there.
By playing in several areas, a lot of kids became interested and played along with us before and after the scheduled league games.
The kids who played picked them game up right away.
Thanks to the Disney hockey movie, “The Mighty Ducks,” and the increased popularity of inline skates, kids island-wide got hockey fever and bugged their parents to buy equipment. Armed with skates, sticks, pads, nets and balls, kids set up their own games in their own neighborhoods.
The timing was right. By late November of 1993, when we were about to start a new street hockey season anyway, another start-up notice in the paper ran and generated tremendous response from parents of interested kids.
We ran a few pick-up games for kids on Sundays and pretty soon there were too many kids to handle at one time, so we decided to put a league together.
One problem was liability, but thanks to a suggestion by County Attorney Kathleen Watanabe, we sought out a nonprofit organization who she said might be willing to help.
Boom! One call to the YMCA, and director Tom Tannery was instantly interested in helping groups with activities if the activity is run an an official capacity and goes along with the YMCA’s mission to promote healthy lifestyles.
So the YMCA helped us out in a big way with liability coverage. In turn, we agreed to use the name YMCA Roller Hockey League and make sure it was run to their liking — in a responsible, official way and with kids wearing the proper safety equipment.
With insurance in hand, the County had no problem granting permits for Wailua Houselots and the Kaumakani Gym.
Another problem that turned out to be no problem at all was finding team sponsors. Six local companies helped ut with donations, and in turn we used their company name as the team name. The donations — by Bicycle John, Kauai Vinyl Siding, Aloha Kauai Travel, International Life Support, Photo Spectrum, Sea Fun and The Garden Island Newspaper — mad it possible to purchase goalie equipment and shirts.
We tried to use nicknames that the sponsors would like. In two cases, the sponsors picked the nicknames — the Bicycle John Road Warriors and the Sea Fun Sharks. In two cases, the nicknames were picked by the league to fit the sponsor’s business — the Photo Spectrum Shooters and the Aloha Kauai Travel Flyers.
In one case, the Kauai Vinyl Siding Coyotes matched the the nickname used by the business’ owner, Mike Houar, for his basketball team in the Native Hawaiian/American Indian Basketball Tournament on Kauai.
And there’s more — since no kids’ league would be right without a Mighty Ducks, that nickname was applied to the International Life Support team.
The Garden Island newspaper’s team was called the Golden Seals, in honor of the defunct California Golden Seals, formerly of the NHL.
The league hopes the original sponsors will stuck around for the long term.
The parents have all been supportive, especially since they had to dish out money for equipment and the $10 registration fee.
And parents are where I thought the breakdown would come. Sometimes hockey is viewed as a violent sport. In the NHL, with checking and fighting. But hockey is much more of a finesse game than many people realize, and bodychecking and fighting aren’t allowed here.
There’ many more kids out there who want to play, but can’t because it’s too late to register. Hopefully, we’ll have the time and resources for a summer league or instructional clinics or daytime camps.
Most likely, hockey will be played in the summer.
Some kids have talked about quitting other sports to play hockey, but the league encourages the kids to play as many sports as they can. An average of one practice and one game is run for each team per week, which should leave plenty of time to be involved in other activities.
Contact has been made with league directors on Maui and Oahu. Oahu has just finished a league and tournament, but Maui is having trouble getting a permit to play. It looks like inter island competitions are not only possible, but inevitable.
The adults on Kauai have made the switch from street hockey to roller hockey, and, like the kids, play every Sunday but in more of an informal setting. A league is planned, and competitions with other islands is also possible. Another possibility is an adult beginner’s league. You’re never too old.
Because Wailua Houselots and especially the Kaumakani Gym are relatively small playing areas, the league hopes to find better places to play. Maybe a roller hockey rink can be built.
Certainly, anyone wanting to build a rink would want to know that the sport is here to stay. All they’d have to do is go to the kids, and don’t say a word. Just watch them play hockey.
It was about a year ago that I got in touch with Gregg Fujikawa, who is a parent to two of Kauai’s original youth hockey players from the ’90s — Matt and Eric.
Back then, Gregg shot tons of video and his daughter did a lot of editing, and so he sent me four of those creations.
Eric, a no-nonsense, strong defenseman, eventually played inline club hockey at Purdue. Matt was a slick and shifty goal scorer who, as you will eventually see in the video, was one of the best players in the state in his Bantam age group at the time.
So far, I have not been able to covert the videos to YouTube and then post them here. But I plan to get some technical help soon and get them out for your viewing pleasure.
One of the videos is of the Kauai Bruins winning state titles on Oahu — at Hanalani School in Mililani and Hickam Air Force Base — and also playing in a tournament in Las Vegas.
I was the coach of the rival Kauai Avalanche, and interestingly enough, in the last game of that video, the Bruins outlast the Avalanche 5-4 in overtime for the 1996 Aloha State Games gold medal at Hickam.
I had forgotten that the Avalanche team (a great group of kids) came that close to winning it all. We were certainly underdogs. One of those Avalanche players — Tim Ishida — is still playing at Kapolei Inline Hockey Arenas.
Two people from Mililani in the video who I didn’t know then are also recognizable to me now — referee Paul Xavier and player Adam Burke.
There’s some really amazing stuff that Gregg sent. One video has footage of George Alfiler’s first season of hockey. George turned out to be someone who many consider to be the best inline player in the state at the time. Ask most of the Oahu guys back then who still play now, and they’ll say the same thing. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I hope to write about the “Legend of George” in the near future, too.
Probably the most famous alumnus of the YMCA Roller Hockey League is Jordon Dizon, who went on to star in football at Waimea High and the University of Colorado before going to the NFL as a linebacker with the Detroit Lions.
Jordon played when he was about 9 during the first couple of seasons. I know I have a photo of him playing somewhere. But, since I don’t know where it is, here’s his NFL rookie card:
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