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A Place for Adult Beginners in Growing Arizona Hockey Scene

By Greg Bates, 12/22/17, 6:45AM MST


Youth hockey on the rise, but ASU’s ice rink offers a place for adults to try, too

Natalie Peck has two sons, ages 7 and 9, who play hockey. Peck wanted to be able to share knowledge of the sport and relate to her kids.

In November, she attended her first adult rookie class at the Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, Arizona, which teaches beginner adults how to play hockey.

Peck’s kids came to watch the opening 20 minutes of their mom’s first class.

“I hadn’t been on skates in several months and we’re going up and down the ice and every time I would try and stop, I could not do it and I would just slide into the boards,” Peck said. “I was dying laughing and it didn’t hurt because I was all padded up. My boys were just dying.”

Just two years earlier, Peck was watching her sons wipe out on the ice and laughing hysterically. Peck could relate. And she had a newfound respect for what the boys could now do in the sport they love.

Peck is just one of many parents who regularly attend the popular adult rookie class along with the adult hockey skills class at Oceanside Ice Arena.

“It never seems to have a lull,” said Scott Ferris, who has been the lead instructor for the two classes for over 20 years. “It goes in the summertime just as much as in the wintertime.”

Ferris figures he gets between 30 and 40 skaters who drop in every week for the adult rookie class. The adult hockey skills course averages about 25 players each Tuesday night.

“Sometimes it’s somebody’s kids playing, 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds, and then dad finds out there’s a place to play,” Ferris said. “We have about 15 to 20 percent women in our class. Women are a big part of our group. They come out in terrific numbers.”

Oceanside Ice Arena isn’t just a big draw for adult hockey players because of the programs offered, but it’s also home to the Arizona State men’s hockey team. The Sun Devils, which have their campus about one mile from the rink, are in their second full season as a Division I program.

When it was announced Arizona State was making the jump from an American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) club program to Division I status, it raised the profile of hockey in the Tempe area. It was one of the biggest developments in Arizona hockey since the NHL’s Coyotes arrived in Phoenix just over 20 years ago.

“The biggest spikes we get is from the combination of the college game and the pro game,” Ferris said. “It’s really never going to stop. It’s the kind of sport that people are kind of intrigued by. When adults find out that there’s a program for them to try it out and there’s not just programs for kids, they are excited.”

Peck is an elementary school physical education teacher and has witnessed firsthand the popularity of hockey, especially from younger kids.

“I’ve been at the same school for 15 years and I’d say in the past five years, it’s gotten way more popular,” Peck said.

Adults who attend the hockey classes, especially the rookie class, love the hands-on, constructive instruction they receive on a weekly basis. The class is held every Tuesday night from 8:55 p.m. to 10:40 p.m. The hockey skills course immediately follows and runs until 11:50 p.m.

Oceanside Ice Arena offers an affordable package for adult players. Payment for drop-in is $20 per session. A skater can purchase a punch card, which is 10 punches for $150 that can be used at any time. Ferris comps a player on the first session, so it works out to 11 sessions for $150.

In the first portion of the rookie class, Ferris concentrates on integrating basic skating techniques. He wants to make sure the players aren’t abandoning the fundamentals of skating. There is work on forward and backward skating, along with edge work. Ferris wants his players to be confident with that aspect of the game.

“These people are capable of starting off with very sophisticated drills and they’re intelligent enough and their physical skills are enough that they can build fundamentals — doing things the proper way right off the bat,” Ferris said. “They feel like hockey players, and they are hockey players. They’re not stumbling bumblers, they feel like players.”

Every week there’s a particular theme. The players will work on a couple drills that zero in on specific skills they can add to their arsenal. It might be drop passes, shooting on net, shooting from bad angles, finding passing lanes — anything goes.

“We do a lot of passing drills,” Peck said. “We don’t really work on puck-handling stuff a whole lot, going through cones or anything like that. It’s all like on-the-go kind of stuff.”

For the last 20 to 30 minutes of every class, the group scrimmages. Ferris emphasizes the importance of freezing pucks and using faceoffs, even in exhibition play.

“Exactly what we worked on today is something that I can apply into our scrimmage,” Peck said. “It’s stuff you can immediately apply when you’re doing a scrimmage.”

For the players who have reached the intermediate stage and are able to move on from the rookie class, the hockey skills course is a great next step.

“My purpose of that class is to incorporate greater skills and more refined skills,” Ferris said. “I want them to realize that sometimes it’s easier to play with better quality players, players that are more experienced. You don’t have to be afraid of it and fundamentals you’re learning in rookie class, when you move onto the advance class sometimes it’s easier because all you have to do is play your position – you don’t have to do anything else.”

Peck can’t imagine missing a Tuesday night rookie class.

“I’ve absolutely loved it,” Peck said. “I’ve done so many different sports growing up and stuff, I’m 38 and beginning a new sport, it’s been amazing.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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