Strikers goalie Biehl excelling on the ice, in the air
The El Segundo Strikers practice at Toyota Sports Center, right in the shadows of Los Angeles International Airport, so it’s only natural that one of the team’s players is also an aspiring pilot who’s on the verge of getting his pilot’s license.
Ryan Biehl, one of the Strikers’ three goalies, wears the team’s jet logo on his uniform in practices and games, and when he’s not on the ice, he tries to spend as much time as possible in the air.
A 17-year-old junior at Beverly Hills High, he first took flying lessons at the age of 13 and embarked on his first solo flight just last year.
“Flying is a lot of fun, and it’s sort of relaxing for me,” Biehl said. “I’ve done a lot of training with instructors in the plane, so while it was nerve-wracking to do my first solo flight, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable the more I’ve been in the plane.”
Biehl is in his third season playing for the Strikers, and before that played three seasons with the Los Angeles Jr. Kings. He said he flies approximately once a week, and his longest flight so far has been about an hour, from Santa Monica to Santa Ynez. While it’s a hobby for now, he said he’s considering making a career of flying, either in the military or as a commercial pilot.
“It’s nice to be up in the air and alone with your thoughts,” Biehl said. “I like to say that all of life’s problems are weighed down by gravity, so flying is almost meditative because you get away from thinking about homework, hockey, and everything else.”
“He’s a remarkable individual as far as his maturity,” added Chris Nelson, the Strikers’ first-year head coach. “It was easy to see during tryouts that he was one of our better hockey players and we wanted him to be part of this team.”
Nelson has done some pilot training as well, and he and Biehl quickly bonded over their love for flying. It isn’t lost on Nelson how incredible it is for someone Biehl’s age to have reached the level of proficiency required to earn a pilot’s license, which he plans to apply for in the next year.
“We’re not talking about commercial airplanes, where they’re so massive that they’re smooth and steady, and are mostly flown by computers,” Nelson said. “When you’re looking at single-engine prop planes, it’s literally a roller coaster ride every time you go up – you feel every single bump, and every landing has to be pinpoint. I’ve done it myself and know it’s not an easy task, so to see a 17-year-old high school junior doing solo flights is remarkable.”
Biehl said there are plenty of parallels between playing goalie and flying.
“When I’m flying by myself, everything is in my hands, and it’s the same on the ice,” he said. “There’s a lot of responsibility. They’re also similar from a visual standpoint, because you’re constantly scanning all around to be sure you’re aware of everything coming at you.”
Added Nelson: “When you’re in the goalie pads, you’re off in your own space without anyone to lean on, and you’re the last line of defense. Just like with being a pilot, you have to be in complete control. If something goes wrong when you’re up in the air, you have to keep your composure and find a way to rectify the situation. You’re pretty much on your own.”
Nelson is looking forward to the possibility of he and Biehl taking an alternate mode of transportation to play some of their far-flung opponents.
“I can almost guarantee that next year, for our games in Santa Barbara and Bakersfield, Ryan and I will be flying our planes to get there rather than fighting through traffic on the roads,” Nelson said.
— Greg Ball
(Nov. 28, 2018)