Noris feted for service to San Diego roller community
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Joe Noris is fondly remembered as one of San Diego professional hockey’s shining stars during the 1970s but it’s been his 30 years of involvement in roller hockey as a manager, owner, manufacturer, player and coach that has left a legacy in the region.
It was a sad day when Noris, 68, announced the closure of the iconic Skate San Diego rink, one of the most storied roller sports venues in San Diego County.
Noris made the decision to retire this year and, when he was unable to find a new leaseholder for the building, he said he had no choice but to close the rink, which had originally been located in National City before moving to its current site in El Cajon in 2014.
The rink closed its doors for the last time on Dec. 8 after five decades of operation.
An era had clearly passed — both for the rink and Noris, who was feted at a retirement ceremony held Nov. 16 at the rink.
Appropriately, the event took place during an ironman tournament during which players and friends of the rink over its long history had a chance to reunite with Noris and bid their farewells to the single-rink facility that had served thousands of roller hockey enthusiasts over the decades and changed the lives of hundreds.
Steve Baldwin, a former California State Assemblyman, championship high school roller hockey coach and member of the San Diego Hosers men’s inline hockey team that Noris helped nurture for many years as both a player and later coach, hailed Noris’s long career, specifically his support of the local inline hockey community.
“He’s done everything at every level in roller hockey,” noted Baldwin, whose three sons gained national prominence while playing at the rink. “I don’t know if there would be roller hockey in San Diego without him.”
Noris, who is well-connected nationally in the sport, received congratulatory messages from several iconic figures in roller hockey, including NARCh founder Paul Chapey, current NARCh owner and president Daryn Goodwin and Amateur Athletic Union national hockey chair Keith Noll.
The first native Coloradoan to be drafted (by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1971) and play in the NHL (with Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Buffalo), Noris made San Diego his adopted hometown after playing professionally for three teams in the city – the San Diego Gulls in the Western Hockey League (1972-73), San Diego Mariners in the World Hockey Association (1975-77) and the San Diego Hawks in the Pacific Hockey League (1978-79).
He fell in love with San Diego – and surfing – during his stint with the Gulls.
“I traded tickets for surf boards,” he said, smiling.
Noris both played for and coached the United States National Inline Hockey Team.
He suited up for Team USA at the inaugural Canada Cup tournament in 1976.
Noris won back-to-back gold medals as head coach of the United States Senior Men’s National Inline Hockey Team at World Championship events in 2008 in Germany and 2009 in Italy. His U.S. squad also won a gold medal at the 2009 International World Games in Chinese Taipei.
Noris’s ice hockey teammates included Hockey Hall of Famers Herb Brooks (with Team USA) and Willie O’Ree (Hawks).
“I played with a lot of great players,” Noris recalled. “In the 1970s, when I played, it was quite different. There were few Americans playing. I left home at 16 to play in Ontario, Canada, with the Kitchener Rangers.”
During his career in the WHA, Noris had a chance to play opposite Hockey Hall of Famers Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe.
A large painting of Noris and the legendary Howe taking a faceoff hung in the foyer at both of the rink’s locations. Howe personally autographed it.
Noris definitely remembers his encounters with Howe, specifically Howe’s infamous elbows.
“I had a couple of conversations with him on the ice and they weren’t the most pleasant,” Noris recalled, chuckling. “Then in the 1977 WHA All-Star Game, I played on the same line with him. I was the center and he was the right wing. The most startling thing to me was how congenial he was. He asked me how I wanted him to play and he said he would play that way. I said, ‘Mr. Howe, I think you know how to play this game.’”
Noris received his introduction to roller hockey first as a player in Masters divisions and then as president of the San Diego Barracudas of Roller Hockey International (1995-96).
“At first, I was a little reserved about roller hockey, so I wanted to play it to see if I liked it,” he said. “I liked the rules of it, no checking, no offsides. It was for everyone, so I got involved with the rink in National City.”
The inline hockey community was better for it.
“Keep playing,” Noris told those applauding him at his retirement ceremony. “Roll on.”
— Phillip Brents
(Jan. 13, 2020)