Planet Claire has pink air. All the trees are red. — B52s “Planet Claire”
1. Hurricane Iniki devastated Kauai, where I was living, in September 1992.
2. Later that year, one of my best friends sent me the blade of a wooden hockey stick with his autographed signature on it. Eh, he did break scoring records at Marlboro (Mass.) High and Fitchburg State College, and that’s damn good. Great, as a matter of fact. As young kids, we used to battle 1-on-1 in the street with another buddy as goalie. He DID NOT want to lose and neither did I. He, however, didn’t want to lose more than me, so he came out on top a bit more often. For him, it was all offense all the time. I put more emphasis on stopping him or, as it sometimes turned out, “trying” to stop him. One time, during a pickup street hockey game, he claimed to have scored the winning goal. In my eyes, the ball never crossed the goal line. I took him to my house, took out the Bible from the bookcase and made him swear on it that he saw it go in. Of course, he did swear on it, but to this day, I think he was lying. Haha. Then, at age 23 in a men’s league game, we were having a great season, but I was tripped near the opponents’ net and slid arm first into the boards. Disclocated elbow, with part of my forearm lodged up past the elbow near my triceps. I was on the ice in pain, with actual tears coming down. He bent down and said something like, “Nick, why are you crying?” Pretty much calling me a wimp. I think he expected me to get up and finish the game. Well, anyway, that’s a typical hockey guy!!! And that passion radiated across the ocean in the form of that hockey blade he sent to a place where no hockey existed. It gave me an idea, and as it turned out, it was a lightbulb of an idea!!!
3. In December 1992, I put a five-inch story in The Garden Island newspaper, asking if anyone wanted to play street hockey. I had not heard of inline (or roller) hockey before that. About five or six guys responded and by early 1993, we were out playing on tennis courts, running around trying to recruit hockey players wherever they may be. I flew over to Oahu to buy some cheap “Seneca” brand hockey sticks at the Bike Factory. Hockey started growing on Kauai, and soon, youth players enamored with “The Mighty Ducks” movie began to show up. And then a man named Todd Mayer came and introduced us to inline hockey and started pushing for us to use pucks instead of balls.
4. Later in 1993, we started our first league for kids and it skyrocketed. We got sponsorship from the YMCA. And then, led by Mayer and Mike Goodnight, the top youth players were picked to form some travel teams that began to play other budding leagues on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island. The first interisland matchup was the Kauai vs. Maui adults at a converted practice tennis court at Wailua Houselots Park on Kauai. That was when Wes Freiwald brought a team over from the Valley Isle.
It’s fuzzy, but this is a photo of a photo from the ol’ archives that was mounted on a plaque. They are the Flyers from the mid-1990s on Kauai. From row, left to right, Kyle Morimoto, Dominick Ansagay, Rico Laguatan, Leland Ibara and David Laguatan. Back row: Coach Nick!!!!, Dean Ortal, Preston Chong, Jason Bryant, Irwin Oyama and John Melchor.
5. As years went by, Mayer’s Laulima Midget-aged team, Goodnight’s Kauai Bruins Pee Wee/Bantam team and the Kauai Bullfrogs Squirt team coached by Mike and Cecile Luis became the top squads in the state for a good stretch. And they enjoyed success on a national level, too. Our adult team, the Kauai Hurricanes, won the 1996 Aloha State Games, topping Maui 2-0 in the final on a big slab of cement and Border Patrol portable boards system at Hickam Air Fore Base on Oahu.
6. Some of those Kauai youth players are still playing at Kapolei Inline Hockey Arenas on Oahu 28 years later — Ryan Shimanuki and Tim Ishida. Many of Kauai’s youth opponents are also still regularly lacing up the skates KIHA — guys like Mitch Furukawa, Sean Carney, Erick Saguibo and Brysson Nikaido, to name just a few.
So, the fire of a couple of kids going 1-on-1 in the 1970s led to a stick blade coming through the U.S. mail and then a call for hockey where none existed.
And there were so many other people who contributed to Kauai’s success back in the day that it would be hard to name them all. But here’s a few: Marc-Andre Gagnon, Les Drent, Gregg Fujikawa, Penni Taketa, Lon Shimanuki, Marina Octavio, Martin Comtois and Ron Kosen. The success they engendered was not just on the rink. They also enriched many, many lives by giving a ton of kids a chance to play a sport that was not available previously.
At the Kapaa rink, another fuzzy photo. Kids I recognize: Ty Akama, Matt Murray, Nick Murray, Chase Engel, Kelly Foster and Aaron Smith.
Clearer photo, at Kaumakani Neighborhood Park. Kids I recognize from this Westside team: Lindsey Ibara,
Vincent Luis, Ipo Kamakele, Todd Ozaki, Justin Muraoka and Mika Givens.
One player from back then, Beth Cuizon — one of my Facebook friends — has been playing hockey in New Zealand.
This hockey wildfire spread quickly, far and wide.
Author’s note: I’ve been wanting to write about the 1990s Kauai hockey explosion for quite a while now. Another story to look for in the future, hopefully, is one on the unquestioned best youth player from those days, George Alfiler. All the Oahu hockey guys now who played against George then will attest to his worthiness as “best player.”
To give you a better idea of what it was like when the kids began to play league hockey back then, I plan to add a story to the BedrockSportsHawaii.com later today, written for The Garden Island Newspaper in 1994. I will also link it here.
Update from July 22, 2021: Here is a new post that includes that article I promised above from 1994: A COMPANION Piece To What Was A FANTASTIC 1990s Kauai Hockey Startup.
Also, a new message from one of the players pictured above came in from Todd Ozaki recently. Ozaki is still playing inline occasionally on Kauai and ice hockey on the mainland.
“I kept playing when I went off to college, eventually got on the ice, and made amazing friendships that I’m sure will last a lifetime,” Ozaki wrote. “I still fly up to Washington and Montana every January for a couple of tournaments with my old team. I picked up one of those Sparx sharpeners and have some synthetic ice in the garage. wife isn’t super stoked about that.”
Postscript No. 1: After some lean years for Kauai hockey recently, there may be some resurgence. Check out this article from The Garden Island newspaper’s Dennis Fujimoto, from May 28, 2021, less than two months ago: Juniors Looking To Form Inline Hockey Team. The fire is still going!!
Postscript No. 2: Preston Chong, pictured in the Flyers’ photo, messaged me to ask for a plug for Kauai hockey nowadays. Perfect. Here it is:
>> Youth skills practice for ages 10-14 at the Kapaa rink is Wednesdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
>> Adult pickup hockey at the Kapaa rink is Wednesdays from 7 to 10 p.m.
For more information, go to KapaaRink.com. The phone numbers to call are Zack at 970-729-0637 and John Masterson at 635-1242.
ALSO AT BedrockSportsHawaii.com: The 2021 OIA-ILH High School Football Schedule Is Out