It’s the fall of 1992 and I’m a thirteen year old chubby kid who has just watched The Mighty Ducks. Immediately, my interest in the sport of hockey is high. This is a sport that I want to learn how to play, but sadly, youth hockey programs are pretty much non-existent in Southern California. Especially in Riverside.
Even if there were, my father was in between jobs, which was a hard time for our family for years, after he had been laid off from the Santa Fe Railway in 1988. My interest had me begging my parents for a pair of rollerblades so I could pretty much teach myself how to skate. Hey, if I could teach myself how to play guitar at that age, learning would be a cakewalk.
Well, it wasn’t.
At that time, I didn’t comprehend our family’s financial situation. We were pretty much poor. My parents worked whatever jobs that they could to make sure we had food on the table, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs. Although my parents couldn’t afford skates, it was a family friend who surprised me with the only pair I ever owned.
I attempted to teach myself, but fear of breaking every bone in my body held me back and I was unsuccessful in my task. Either way, some of the neighborhood kids also took some interest in hockey and we found that you don’t need skates to play. So, street hockey was it. My parents were able to spring for a Franklin street hockey stick, and even if us neighborhood kids weren’t playing, I taped a rectangle on our garage door which I used as a “net” so I could practice shooting. I’m pretty sure my parents got annoyed with the loud, banging noise of the ball hitting the door.
Over time, the neighborhood kids lost interest and I put away the stick, never using it again. I also fell back in following the sport and although I asked my dad if he could take me to see an actual Ducks game, our family’s financial situation hindered my requests and my whole interest in the sport dwindled throughout the years.
I witnessed the amazing chemistry between Selanne and Kariya, however, during those early years. My love of hockey was rekindled in 2003 when Anaheim made their run to the Cup. Kariya was my favorite Duck up until he left the team.
I remember where I was exactly at the time Anaheim finally won the Cup. I was working at Disneyland. In the two years after, I found myself visiting Anaheim Ice a number of times during the summer where I watched the beer league teams and imagined being out on the ice.
When I moved to Washington state, I went to one game in Tacoma. Even then, I wished to play, but I just didn’t do it. In 2015, I purchased my first stick for $70 while visiting what was then Hockey Giant. That began my long journey toward finally getting out on the ice. From that time to present day, I collected more pieces of gear. I bought skates during a 4th of July sale at said Hockey Giant. I was determined to at least get out on the ice and skate. Shoulder pads and pants were purchased at a Ducks locker room sale; I got a really great deal and they were brand new. Gloves, shin, and elbow pads were given to me from my co-worker and good friend, Birdo. He and my old buddy, Kyle Shohara pushed and pushed and pushed me to sign up for one of the Ducks’ Adult Learn To Play programs.
Finally getting out onto the ice
Even my buddy Biznasty encouraged me, along with Vincent LoVerde both of whom I met while working in Rancho Cucamonga, where many of the Ontario Reign players visited. In that time, I met Jake, CJ, JC, and Felix who also pushed me to learn (Jake lent me a helmet/cage combo which was a little too snug for my freakishly giant head). At the same time, I met the infamous Chip. I had a huge group of supporters. All I needed was compression pants and the most important piece of equipment: a cup.
On January 27th of this year, I finally had my first learn-to-play session in Anaheim. Leading up to that date I was very nervous as well as scared that I would be the worst skater out on the ice.....which I totally was. But I was proud of myself. I had put all my worries aside and had taken the next big step in being a part of my first ever rookie team.
I chose not to join a league after my first session because I really wanted to work on skating, puck handling, and passing before going in on a team. I also began to take part in stick time in Riverside, Anaheim, and Irvine. I also did 4 Learn To Play sessions in The Rinks system. On March 24th, I played my first pickup game which was also the Podcast Classic Part 2. I was asked by Chip, who was putting together a rookie team, if I wanted to join. I happily accepted. After taking part in my last Learn To Play session at Anaheim Ice, I played my second pickup game which was a week before the big day: my first ever rookie beer league game with the Donnybrook HC.
Although the game ended in a 3-1 loss, I thought back on these past five months and I’m very proud of where I have come since hitting the ice in all of my hockey gear. I even lost 20 lbs in three of those months!
If you’ve thought about learning to play hockey but are unsure or not confident you could do it, I say...go for it. The fact that the Ducks’ Learn To Play program is free for the 3 classes per session is amazing. Also, you don’t need to know how to skate! The first thing you learn is the ABC’s of skating before touching a puck and in every class, you continue to work on skating. If you’re worried about equipment, you can rent it for the session with a deposit of $250.
I’m glad I put away my fears and reluctance. It’s been completely rewarding not only doing it with friends, but meeting new people who are in the same boat. Although I’m terrible and in disbelief, the feeling is surreal to think that after almost 27 years, I’m so happy I can finally say that I’m a hockey player.
To sign up, visit the program’s site for Learn To Play.
I wanted to thank those who have supported me the whole way in no particular order:
Birdo, Lauren, Biznasty, Chip, Jake Rudolph, CJ, Kyle, The Shockeys, John Broadbent, Randy the Cam Man, Vincent LoVerde, Felix, Kent Huskins, Carrlyn, Jake Robles, Scottish Scott, JC, Felix, Kirstie and all the adult Learn To Play coaches at Anaheim and at Great Park Ice, Charlotte, Nick Pappy, Dan Elder & his pops, my Donnybrook HC teammates, the Anaheim Calling crew, and my mother who constantly worries about my safety and my health.