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Growing the Game in Paradise

By Steve Mann, 12/28/23, 4:30PM MST


When most people think about the Aloha State, they probably see sunshine, palm trees and pineapple. But inside Honolulu’s Ice Palace, there’s actually a group of passionate players and officials turning this tropical paradise into a hockey haven.

Yes, they play hockey in Hawaii, and while, for obvious reasons, the sport’s participation numbers won’t rival Minnesota or Massachusetts any time soon, the game is growing there. At the Ice Palace, the state’s lone skating rink, which opened just over 40 years ago, youth and adult players can improve their skills and have fun in a truly supportive environment.

Dan Ellison, USA Hockey Pacific District’s Referee-in-Chief, recently visited Hawaii and came away impressed with what he saw.

“The passion they have for hockey is incredible. I was blown away,” Ellison said. “Last I heard there were over 300 people there currently registered with USA Hockey. The rink was closed from the start of COVID through May of this year, but they are going through the steps of growing their program. But the day we were there for our seminar there was a public skate and it was just packed, on a Sunday afternoon in Hawaii. It’s a great, great program.”

Hawaii Hockey Background

According to Ellison, the rink is very much community-based, and located close to Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu. The local program’s main focus is youth, but there is a decent contingent of adult players and a high school team as well. Unlike on the U.S. mainland, there aren’t 10-20 teams in a particular area to form a league, so the high school-aged players go through training and skate together. 

“It was fun to see the high school coach’s eyes light up when talking about the program,” said Ellison. “It’s competitive, in that it’s a team sport, though it’s truly recreational hockey and they’re trying to get better. I think they have a nice understanding of, it’s a game, we’re here to have fun.”

State of Officiating

As one might imagine, as tough as it would be to find a large quantity of hockey players in this warm-weather climate, where history and accessibility to ice are not like they are across the ocean, finding enough interested and qualified officials poses an even greater challenge.

Ellison says for a variety of reasons – including military commitments impacting some recently registered officials – it’s a work-in-progress to identify new officials, but that the situation is improving, slowly but surely.

Local recruiting efforts are being supported in a big way by Samantha White, who serves as liaison to the officiating community in Hawaii. Emails to high school-aged players were sent encouraging them to give refereeing a try. It’s a total grassroots effort.

Ellison says that while the majority of officials in the program are experienced and moved to Hawaii from elsewhere and wanted to stay involved in the game, ongoing training is part of the process. 

“First year training includes a classroom seminar and an on-ice session, which helps them with things from where do you find a rule in the rule book, to equipment, to calling offsides, conducting faceoffs, calling icing and more,” he said. “In Hawaii, where a lot of games will be the two-official system, they have to know how to call penalties from their first game forward. This gives them a foundation to work from, as they go through the USA Hockey officiating program. Every year they’ll get more advanced information presented to them to help them advance their skills.”

What’s Next?

Growing the game both on and off the ice remains an objective in Hawaii, and USA Hockey will continue to support the effort. While it’s not feasible to be on-site for multiple seminars and training sessions on a regular basis, the organization will work closely with White on local recruiting and getting the word out to prospective officials, to support the growing number of players in the area. 

Per Ellison, one of the next steps includes working with the military’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs to promote hockey opportunities within the ranks. As that initiative grows, and the rink capabilities grow, “everything gets better,” he says.

“I encourage anybody who is interested to visit the Ice Palace Hawaii’s website, orreach out to Samantha White,” Ellison said. “If you want to get involved, it’s a great community-based program and the excitement and enthusiasm is growing.”