ST. GEORGE — There’s a passionate team of hockey players in the St. George area, but given the desert climate where the team is based, they don’t play on ice. Instead, the St. George Roller Hockey Club meets weekly for games in the parking lot of the new Crimson Cliffs Middle School in Washington.
Ice hockey is a sport with unique aesthetics: the sound of ice shaving under skates, the distinctive slap of the rubber puck against wood sticks, the waves of cold air in refrigerated arenas.
Roller hockey has similarly satisfying, albeit completely opposite, sights and sounds: the smooth whir of roller blades, the snap of the plastic ball against plastic sticks, the heat rising off baked pavement in the evening dark.
When St. George News visited with roller hockey club members, it was clear that the passion for the sport among locals is equal to their passion for ice hockey.
“Just talking to people around town – and I’ve gone door to door – people are really excited about it,” club organizer and player Doug Reed said. “They’re excited about the idea of a new sport that’s fast and exciting and a lot of fun to play. We’re a hockey town, the city just doesn’t know it yet.”
The club had its biggest turnout yet Thursday evening, with kids playing a game first, followed by about 25 adult players on two different rinks, set side by side in the parking lot.
The rinks were divided by netting, and the curbs on either side of the parking lot provided boards for the players to play along.
The attitude was competitive but friendly, with none of the body checking or fisticuffs that sometimes show up in ice hockey games.
Goalies wore full pads with helmet and face guards. Skaters wore gloves, and many had knee and elbow pads for protection when falling on the pavement. Both games featured athletes flat footing it, with no roller blades.
Organizer and player Richard LeBaron said they have all levels of players and ages.
“Tonight is the first time we’ve had enough people for two rinks,” he said. “I’m thrilled with how many people we have out here.”
LeBaron said that there have been roller hockey players in the St. George area playing informally since the early 2000’s, originally playing in the convention center.
Game sites moved around as the years went by, and players sought any venue that allowed for smooth roller blading.
“When there’s cracks in the surface it makes it so much more difficult,” LeBaron said. “Here at the middle school it’s brand new asphalt, so that is cool.”
He added that cracks and an unsmooth surface make roller blading a lot less safe, especially for children. The parking lot at the middle school, while the best surface available, is still less than ideal due to events, cars and lack of containment for errant shots and passes.
“A specific place to play would be amazing,” LeBaron said. “Get a piece of cement with some boards around it. That would be unbelievable.”
Reed said that the group has gathered over 300 signatures of locals who support getting a specific roller hockey facility, and not one person he’s talked to has had a negative thing to say about it.
“We’ve got people coming from Washington, St. George, Santa Clara, Mesquite. We’ll drive to play. We’d really love a nice safe place to bring the hockey community up to speed.”
Dan Deceuster moved to the area from San Jose, California, where high schools had roller hockey teams, as well as youth and adult leagues with multiple teams. He has seen firsthand how much value a roller hockey facility provides to a community.
“It can be any kind of facility, as long as it has boards and lights; it doesn’t have to be indoors necessarily,” Deceuster said. “There’s only so many opportunities, especially as a parent here, to get your kids into something.”
He added that with the popularity of rugby and lacrosse taking off in the area and burnout over the other “big” sports, people are looking for something new.
“I think just having an alternative sport out there that’s fun, that’s active, people can really get behind it,” Deceuster said. “There’s already a lot of people out here. If there was some kind of league for kids, for adults, a lot more people would get interested and play.”
Reed encourages anyone interested in playing to come out to the middle school on Thursday nights. He also suggested visiting the Facebook page, where information is available about games and future activities.
“We’re talking about fundraising and working to get a facility,” Reed said. “We’ll do anything. Everybody’s welcome, come on out.”
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