Star-Bulletin Article

Hockey in Hawaii
is like icing on the cake

By Mary Sano
Special to the Star-Bulletin

WHILE some Oahu sports enthusiasts spend humid, Kona-wind evenings swatting at fluttering termites attracted to the glow of ESPN, there are some wise islanders cutting it up with hockey sticks and gliding across the frosty ice out at the Stadium Mall in Salt Lake.

The Ice Palace Hawaiian Adult Ice Hockey League has been providing a cool activity alternative to island residents since its inception about 12 years ago.

“It’s a for-fun league,” said Ken Perel, skate school director and the Ice Palace’s main coordinator for the hockey league. “There are great health benefits to hockey, you can play for a lifetime. We’ve got 18 to 65-year-olds playing with us. It’s a low-impact sport.”

Low-impact hockey? While most people picture hockey players with missing teeth and broken noses, Perel clarified his statement. “There’s no pounding on the knees, but a player still gets a good physical and cardio workout,” he said.

In addition, the league plays noncontact hockey, where no body checking is allowed.

John Beck, the league’s founder and one of the Ice Palace’s general managers explains. “Nonchecking means I can’t just come in and throw a shoulder into you to take you out, or swing the stick at you,” he said. “Guys can lose a spleen or an eye that way. There’s always contact in hockey, but you can’t just whack the other guy (in our leagues).”

Playing by these rules also makes the league more accessible to a wider range of people.

“I gotta work the next morning,” said Justin Lewis, a homegrown member of the team called Wings. Lewis, 25, started in-line skating when he was a student at McKinley High School. He said he and his brother, Mike, who plays for the same team, got interested in ice hockey after learning to play roller hockey. They saved up for their equipment (which can cost up to $1,000) and got into it.

Justin Lewis:
“At first, some of our friends
thought hockey is just a bunch of goons
getting busted up. Now a lot of them
think it’s pretty neat.”

“At first, some of our friends thought hockey is just a bunch of goons getting busted up,” he said. “Some of them don’t think it’s a skilled game, but it is. First you have to learn how to skate. Then you gotta have speed, balance, stick-handling skill. Not everyone can do it.”

Paul Rausch, is another Wings player who loves his hockey, but needs to be in shape for work at the University of Hawaii’s Korean Studies department. “There’s no other sport like it. It’s a good, fun game, but we try to discourage really rough play,” Rausch said. “We haven’t always had the best role models, though.”

“It’s an emotional, aggressive game. You skate hard for a full 60 minutes,” Perel said. “At the drop of a hat, tempers can flare and then you have eruptions of fighting. The idea is to limit that, and that’s why we play noncontact.”

To introduce potential players to the sport, the Ice Palace offers a 10-week “Learn to Play” program where people can start from square one –learning how to skate. Perel said by the end of the summer, participants ages 18 and over are eligible to play on one of the eight teams in either the “A” or “B” leagues.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Dan Dzankovic of the Wings, left, and a player from the Lightning
mix it up in a hockey league at the Ice Palace.

Two seasons — from September through Christmas, and from January through Memorial Day — keep the players’ skills and skates sharpened. During the summer months there are pick-up games. Although the Ice Palace provides the rink, the referees and the puck, players must have their own protective equipment and sticks.

“USA Hockey, the governing body of all amateur hockey in the United States provides the standardized rule book, some insurance, referee training and guidance on how to structure the league,” Perel said. There is also a youth league for 5 to 17-year-olds.

Games generally are played after the general public skating sessions are over, later in the evening.

Interest in local hockey has grown since Beck began the league from scratch in 1984. “We have more people who want to play youth hockey than we can fit,” Beck said. “I think it’s because roller hockey’s popularity is snowballing like crazy.”

“We’ve been seeing a lot more local people coming out there,” Perel said. “A lot of younger boys are coming in to the youth league and then they’re moving onto the adult league.”

The Lewis brothers are good examples of local kids who kept with it and now are ambassadors of the sport to their friends and family. Justin Lewis said that after some of his friends have gone down to the Ice Palace to watch the games, they have changed their tune about goons-on-ice.

“Now a lot of them think it’s pretty neat,” he said. “Me and my brother are like ice hockey educators to our friends.”

© 1997 Honolulu Star-Bulletin