Next generation of inline hockey players ready to roll across California
Inline hockey experienced its first major growth spurt in Southern California in the early 1990s.
Fast forward more than 25 years and inline hockey has become a global sport.
It spawned a first generation of elite travel teams that, in turn, spawned a series of major regional and national tournaments that continue to be supported by the inline hockey community.
While inline hockey can serve as a gateway to ice hockey for some, it remains the sport of choice for many due to its emphasis on free-wheeling offense (no offsides), non-checking rules and accessibility (no ice is required). Plus, it is relatively inexpensive to play.
In either case, the next generation continues to roll.
“Roller hockey is very healthy in Southern California,” NARCh president Daryn Goodwin proclaimed after pointing to robust attendance figures from January’s NARCh Winternationals held at The Rinks-Huntington Beach.
NARCh’s annual signature kickoff event attracted 139 teams to the four-day tournament.
While inline hockey remains ever popular at the youth level, it’s apparent by the numbers that adults are continuing to play the game they grew up loving.
Goodwin noted that of the total entries, 53 were men’s teams (38 percent). Those included nine Pro Division teams, six Men’s Platinum division teams, 10 Men’s Gold division teams, 24 Men’s Silver/Bronze division teams and four 40-and-over division teams.
Including women’s teams, adult teams accounted for 48 percent of the total entries at this year’s NARCh Winternationals. That’s a significant number, and one that offers an exciting future growth potential.
“One of the most rewarding parts of running NARCh is the fact that many of the kids who grew up playing are still playing as adults in the men’s divisions,” Goodwin explained. “Many of them are having kids who are starting to play, so we’re starting to see some second-generation growth in the sport.”
Growth in inline hockey is also continuing in Northern California.
Nine teams from the Nor Cal region won division championships at January’s NARCh Winternationals, including teams representing the rebranded Konixx Nitrous program, Mission Mayhem, NCR Konixx Elite, San Jose Venom, Konixx Mutiny, Warrior Revolution and Pure Octane.
Nitrous, for instance, is fielding teams in six age groups from 12U to Pro this year.
“Most Nor Cal teams play year-round and start earlier than most areas, so I believe that gives us a jump on the chemistry side of the game,” Nitrous program director Rick Madrigal said.
Madrigal credited tournaments like NARCh and TORHS (Tournament of Roller Hockey Series) as major players in raising the caliber of play throughout the region.
“With these two great tournaments coming out, it pushes Nor Cal hockey and, in return, some of the clubs have a team or two that have established themselves regionally and nationally as perennial contenders in their respective divisions,” said Madrigal.
Madrigal said the Nitrous 18U Platinum team will travel to all national tournaments this year.
Brennan Edwards serves as the director of the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League (WCRHL) and executive director of the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association (NCRHA), the governing entity for collegiate scholastic inline. He sees inline hockey’s roots expanding.
The WCRHL is fielding 21 teams this season across five competition tiers. Thirteen teams are based in California, seven in Arizona and one in Nevada.
“The state of the game is that there is a lot of talent out there, and collegiate-wise, the talent seems to be spreading out from the top couple of schools and creating some more equitable competition,” Edwards said. “Now, that is talking more about Division I and their associated Division IV teams, but there is talent in every division.
“Roster sizes seem to be up from last year, and there are still a lot of youth and scholastic players out there. We are focusing on connecting the dots, connecting those players with the schools, eliminating the weak points where they may not even know about collegiate roller hockey.
“Partnerships with companies like Farm Tough Hockey, among others, are great ways to connect both directions – players with teams and also teams with players.”
Meanwhile, growth continues at the grassroots level.
“The growth of inline hockey in Southern California has been great to see,” explained Steven Boddy, who serves as digital marketing coordinator for the Anaheim Ducks. “At the grassroots level, the Anaheim Ducks continue to put a high emphasis on growing the sport through their free Learn to Play programs (for both ice and inline). We’ve seen more and more players come through this program at Corona Inline and subsequently sign up for in-house rec leagues and join our Bulldogs travel program. Learn to Play has been instrumental in growing roller hockey at the younger levels.”
“Without that program here in Corona I don’t think our program would be what it is today,” Bulldogs age-group coach Ben Barrett added. “I’d be confident to say of the seven teams that medaled (at January’s NARCh Winternationals), at least 75 percent of them started in the Ducks’ Learn to Play program.”
New opportunities have arisen as the sport of inline hockey has gone global.
Boddy has served as the assistant coach for the United States Junior Men’s Inline Team since 2017. He’s seen many promising young inline players progress into international play.
“Besides this community engagement, USA Roller Sports has grown in recent years by attracting many California players to play in the World Inline Hockey Championships and World Roller Games,” Boddy said. “The Team USA Junior Men’s squad won the gold medal in Italy in 2018 and the silver medal in Spain in 2019 with each team made up of a majority of California players.
“Being a part of these teams is such an amazing experience that every single one of the players on these teams end up going back home afterwards and telling teammates, friends and family, which in turn helps grow the program even more.
“For most of these players, the chance to play on the junior men’s team only comes once due to the age restrictions, so for those who do play, the experience and camaraderie is unforgettable and unmatched by any other ice or roller hockey tournament.
“In addition, tournament programs like State Wars Hockey have done an exceptional job growing roller hockey in each state creating a sense of pride for every team. Especially out here, many players feel that California produces the best roller hockey in the country and they feel that participating in State Wars and representing their country with Team USA is a great way to showcase California roller hockey.”
Yes, it’s the wheel deal.
— Phillip Brents
(March 9, 2020)