Sports enthusiasts across the nation have a preconceived notion about hockey. To a degree, they are absolutely correct. Hockey is the most electric in-arena game but for whatever reason, it doesn't translate to TV.
There is another issue with hockey. Learning the game can be tricky. Not every aspiring hockey player has access to a sheet of ice. Without ice, there is no hockey. Right?
River West Inline Hockey League gives Tulsans a chance to play hockey sans ice.
"It's the first year in about 10 years," explained Cary Eskridge, league founder.
The Oilers are backing the venture 100 percent. The grassroots effort attempts to turn more Tulsans onto the sport of hockey. Whether on ice or concrete, the basic skills and style of play remain the same.
There were 550 players involved with inline hockey back in the mid-90s. The two rinks in town could not support the promising league. Also, local area indoor roller rinks decided to dabble in the sport. Chaos ensued and Tulsa's inline hockey scene vanished. Until today.
The newly formed league now practices and plays official games at River West Festival Park, 2015 S. Jackson. Live action can be seen every Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
The open area provides substantial room for the blue-painted concrete surface. The Oktoberfest tent collapse caused minor damage to the surface but hard work has the rink in game shape today.
The inline hockey league is for everyone. The participatory ages range from eight to 50ish.
The skill level brings beginners and sharp-shooters together in a way to provide a level of comfort for all.
"This is a recreational fun league. It's all about having fun. There are a couple of gunslingers who have been playing for a long time. There is only so much room inside the dasher boards. As long as you can skate and manage your stick, there's not that much room that someone will outplay you," said Eskridge, who moonlights as the Tulsa Oilers videographer.
Ice skating intimidates. It shouldn't, but the truth of the matter is not everyone feels comfortable negotiating a slick sheet of ice with thin blades attached to their feet.
"You can learn all the fundamentals of hockey through inline hockey. A lot of people who have never played before can start here and get their balance, learn all the fundamentals of skating, shooting, offense and defensive play through inline hockey. Once they take the step into ice hockey they can immediately feel comfortable," said Eskridge, who also laces up the skates.
"A lot of time people don't get a fair shake because the boot is not fitted for them," Eskridge said of rental ice skates. The main issue is ankle support. Rental skates don't provide the firm fit needed to enjoy a clean skate. Fitted with a proper skate, "Their experience would be totally difference."
Inline hockey gives the average Joe the same feeling of ice hockey without the level of commitment or high dollars involved. Ice hockey leagues typically run six months. River West Inline Hockey League is a two-month commitment.
Many dream of scoring a touchdown, sinking a 3-pointer or rounding third heading home. Often times, those wishes go unfulfilled. With inline hockey, everyone can experience the feeling of scoring a goooooal.
Skate if Ya Got 'Em
"With inline hockey, you can develop your skating skills any time in your driveway, the park, wherever you'll be allowed to skate. Depending on what time of day it is," laughed Eskridge. "With ice skates, you're limited to the short practice time you have available. The rink is consumed from sun up to sun down."
Even with the Oilers Ice Center, 6413 South Mingo, opening an outside rink for the holidays, practice time for hockey nuts is limited. By the way, the outdoor rink opened November 23rd and will operate 12--8pm, seven days a week. Where were we? Inline, right?
The majority of the south lives quite satisfactorily without hockey. What's easiest for a parent to give their child? A football and a little real estate? A basketball and a hoop? A sheet of ice and a pair of blades?
"Growing up in Oklahoma you can't go in your backyard and take a garden hose out and play," said inline hockey player, Rocky Fleming. Fleming just turned 50. He's always loved hockey and this is his chance to get in shape, compete and have fun.
His team, the Shark Monkeys, is developing somewhat of a cult following. Two of the members are female. One from Florida and the other from New York. The Shark Monkeys are diverse.
Inline skating solves the great hockey dilemma. A pair of inline roller skates can open avenues to hockey and health. I'm not talking about the kid's shoe in the grocery store with the little wheel attached.
"My brother and I used to have inline hockey or roller hockey games every day. At the house, we had an extra long driveway. We used to set up boards when we were kids. We'd have to be called in by our mom to take a shower and eat," laughed Eskridge.
"It goes way back. My family used to go to the Oilers games. I remember going as far back as when I was six years old. I've been involved, one way or the other, with hockey ever since then," said the offensive, tackle sized league founder.
Ice hockey is not an option for many. The physical nature of the game or sheer speed keeps many away. The inline version of hockey is a non-threatening way to learn the game from inside the dasher boards.
"In our league, there's no full-out checking. Playing the puck or the body, yes, but no outright checking," assured Eskridge.
He's committed to bringing a quality product for Tulsans to enjoy.
"It's a blast. You might consider playing, who knows," he said, pointing to me.
The youth leagues utilize a ball whereas adult leagues drop a puck. Still sitting on the fence? Not sure if inline hockey is for you?
Purchase a pair of inline skates and practice. Maneuver your way up and down the block.
"Skating is 60 percent of it. Once you feel comfortable skating, you'll feel comfortable stick-handling, shooting, turning sharply," said Eskridge.
The fall league is underway. Head out to River West Festival Parks for game action to see if your interest is piqued. The next scheduled session is slated for the first of February. Inline hockey is here to stay.
"Jeff Lund (Oilers Owner) told me we have all his support for it. A lot of people will take the chance and be introduced to hockey through inline and eventually play ice hockey and eventually go to games. It's really here to grow the sport," said Eskridge of his brainchild.
For a bargain price of 88 bucks, you are ensured ten practices and ten games. You also get a numbered, two-colored hockey sweater for game day. Try purchasing a hockey jersey alone for $88. That's a lot of bang for your buck.
For more information visit riverwestinlinehockeyleague.com or call 828-3797.
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