Thursday , 27 October 2016

Despite Warm Weather, Olympics Keep Hockey `Cool’ in McKinney

Growing up in Texas is much like you’d expect. Summers are hot, winters are warmer than most, and Friday night is all about football. But for myself and a select few, the two-a-days all summer long weren’t on the football field, but instead the ice rink. And they were more like two-a-weeks; ice time isn’t cheap. Even to this day I get shocked reactions when I say I grew up playing ice hockey in Texas and it’s understandable to think anything involving ice and the Lone Star State seems like an oxymoron. In reality though, ever since Dallas acquired the Minnesota North Stars in 1993, the organization has made a huge effort to help the sport grow down south. I’ve played in rinks all over the U.S. and even in some Canadian and German arenas and hands down the best facilities are in Dallas. In part, this is due to the youth of the sport in the state. I’m sure Toronto’s rinks were state of the art when they were built in 1902, but hockey is so young in Texas that all the rinks are barely 20 years old, if that.

This all being said, the success of this sport, its youth programs and its facilities lie heavily on how well the Stars are doing. In 1999, when they won the Stanley Cup, you’d be hard pressed to find a kid who didn’t want to lace up at his or her nearest Dr Pepper Star Center and give the sport a go. But time hasn’t been kind to the Stars in recent years. Up until this year’s franchise re-branding, it was getting rough to call yourself a Stars fan and the youth programs suffered. Interest had died down, a couple ice rinks closed and Texans again focused more on football than hockey. But alas, all is not lost and some organizations have shown just how successful they can be.

Winter Sports Specialist Daniel Meyer and I both played for the McKinney Ice Hockey Club for five years. Back then we still had parents bickering about being called the “Lions” even with North and Boyd students playing for the club, and expansion into other leagues scared a lot of the members of the board. But here we are 10 years later and not only are Varsity and JV teams thriving, but the club has Midget, Bantam, PeeWee and Squirt teams. These seemingly goofy terms are all hockey age groups, so what started off as a high school hockey club has transformed into an organization that gets kids on the ice as early as 9 years old. These 9-year-olds are a force to be reckoned with, as Meyer and I found out when we went on the ice with the McKinney Lightning squirt team.

Hockey may never get old, but we sure do. And although Meyer is currently training to try out for minor league teams, my on-ice experience ended in college when I separated my shoulder playing for the University of Kansas’ club team. Needless to say, many days have passed and many pounds have been gained, so these kids were skating circles around me. They also weren’t afraid to tell me that. There’s just something about hot shot kids playing hockey; they’ve got attitudes. But I loved every minute of it.

These kids and their smack talking reminded me of how great a sport this is and how confident, and at times humble, it can make children. Everything I learned on the ice has had a direct correlation with how I am as an adult. I’m sure this can be said of most sports, but being a part of such a niche sport in Texas of all places really brought the few of us that played together. As the Olympic Games in Sochi finally closed, there is a new resurgence in interest. And if the Stars’ current season has anything to show, hockey may be on the rise once again. For those that don’t know much about the sport, take a look at the accompanying video as the McKinney Lightning players tell Meyer and I a bit of the basics of the sport. These kids are real pros, just watch that breakout.

The seasons may be shifting and what little ice we had may have melted long ago, but if the popularity of the Olympics is anything to go by, winter sports are just as cool as ever. For more ice-related puns, tune in next week for a look at the more sophisticated sister sport to hockey: figure skating. Neither Meyer nor myself have any experience in figure skating, so I’m sure hilarity will ensue.

Editor’s Note: Dylan Derryberry is a reporter for TSB. If you missed his first winter sport experiment, when he tried curling, click here to view that package.

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