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The Coolest Sport in Town 

Youth hockey focuses on teamwork

click to enlarge hockeyboy.jpg

Put those old ideas about ice hockey in a deep freeze. It's quickly turning into the perfect sport for kids!

Sure, the game can conjure up some rough images, not the least of which are fistfights and missing teeth. And yes, while there's still a trace of hockey's more violent traditions at the professional level, Bend parents have very little to fear.

It turns out that youth hockey is no more dangerous than any other sport your child might play. And with all the padding the players wear, it's probably even safer.

So, forget the old days. Today's game is all about focus, skill, teamwork and sportsmanship—both at the recreational and competitive levels. It's a lot of fun to watch, and judging from the action and enthusiasm on The Pavilion ice, it's a blast to play.

Kids can participate in either a recreation league through Bend Park & Rec, or for the more dedicated players, there's the Bend Rapids travel team.

Bend Park & Recreation

District Youth Hockey League

"This league—I'm so happy that my kid's into it," says Hockey dad (and coach) Keith Bell, who grew up playing hockey. "It reminds me of the joy of playing pond hockey where you're just out there to skate and have fun and enjoy. It's not about the score of the game or who wins or who dominates. It's about the joy of getting out and passing the puck and how much fun hockey can be."

The rec league is for boys and girls between ages seven and 15. It's somewhat of a hybrid. Some players are still practicing the basics, while others demonstrate a higher skill level. Even for this league, though, prior skating experience is required. (BPRD offers a variety of both skating and hockey classes for kids as young as three.)

"I started when I was six," says Torin Monaco, dressed in his full goalie mask and pads. "My dad told me about it. I've liked it ever since I started playing goalie because I saw a lot of NHL (National Hockey League), and I thought goalie was a good position." He's been playing hockey for about three years and loves it. "It's kind of—you're in a whole new world with ice and everyone skating around, and you have to focus. It's just a really good feeling."

His dad Tim agrees. "It's a good team sport. It teaches them a lot of good skills, balance, strength and good teamwork. I think hockey is safer than a lot of sports like soccer and football because the contact is a little safer."

"Youth hockey is booming right now," says Aaron Olson, a coach for both Bend Park & Rec and the Rapids. "This is only the third year we've had the rink and every program is absolutely exploding. There are tons of activities."

Bend Rapids Youth Hockey Program

In addition to the recreation league, there is a more competitive travel team, the Bend Rapids, that also calls The Pavilion home. They offer everything from a 10U (age 10 and under) team, to a squad for high schoolers. They've even added in a slot for an 8U team this season. In all, close to 100 athletes take part—up substantially from last year. Pre-season tryouts enable them to match kids with others at similar skill levels.

"I've always said a lot of kids just naturally like to ice skate, but you put a hockey stick in their hands, it's like a magic wand," says Rapids representative, Jim Boss. "It just completely transforms their interest in ice sports." Boss also emphasizes the club's dedication to athleticism. "It's about developing an athlete rather than a hockey player. They'll [also] be good basketball players or lacrosse players. Building the athlete is the emphasis."

Hockey mom, Lisa Lamberto, who has an 11-year-old on the team, says her son enjoys all aspects of Rapids hockey. "He loves the discipline that's necessary to be a good hockey player and he loves his coaches."

Wearing a Rapids jersey takes a certain amount of dedication on the part of the players. "There's definitely a level of commitment that's required in the Rapids organization that you don't quite have with the 'house league' (Pars & Rec)," says another club rep, Jon Vlasak. "Some of our teams practice at 5:30am so there's that passion that the kids are going to have."

"Our sole purpose for existing is to grow the sport of ice hockey in Central Oregon," he says. "Everybody is welcome in this program. We want to get every kid we can involved. It's a sport they can enjoy their entire lives."

Roller Hockey

For those of you who like your hockey on dry land, there are roller hockey options in Bend as well. Check out the Cascade Indoor Sports Youth Hockey League as well as the Bend Bullets Hockey Program. The Bullets are coming off a highly successful run at the North American Roller Hockey Championship Finals.

For more information on youth hockey check out these helpful websites:


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