How a Vato Fell in Love With Hockey

For this humble vato from West San Jose, there’s nothing better than when his two favorite things about San Jo come together every night at Rollin’ Ice, the local roller hockey rink: the gente of all backgrounds who live here and our hockey loving community.

2010 Drunken Monkeys Team
Image provided by Carlos Velazquez of the 2010 Champs

I discovered and fell in love with hockey in 1994, when as a young teen I heard that the Sharks made the playoffs for the first time. A pro team in my hometown, playing some sport called hockey, in the playoffs? I had to watch. The thrilling pace of the game, the skill, and the ragtag personality of my beloved Tiburones cemented my love affair with the sport and never ending pride in my city’s team. As the son of Mexicano parents, I gravitated towards the immigrant players on the team, relating with the Russians and Latvians who spoke little English and played with old, odd equipment. They reminded me of when I also knew little English, or how I also had to make do with second hand clothes.

Within days I wanted to play this new sport, and as I realized later, so did many other folks in San Jose. I crafted my first hockey stick out of an old broomstick and cardboard, and forced my little brother to play with me on the driveway. We played like this for a couple of months, until my mom finished the layaway payments on a kids’ hockey set of sticks, a ball, and a mini-goal. An old baseball glove and kneepads completed my goalie equipment, and our driveway served as the rink.

Lessons? Leagues? Chale, those thing weren’t even imaginable to me. Mimicking the moves I saw the pros make on TV, listening to the broadcasters, and thousands of hours playing with my little bro were my lessons. On special occasions, usually when my pops scored free tickets or I could afford two $17 tickets (for my brother and I), we would get to go to Sharks games, hopping onto the 23 bus or finding free parking a mile away from the Tank. I spent the whole game staring at the goalies, absorbing all their moves so I could copy them right after because sure enough we went home to play past midnight.

By the time I turned 18, my brother had retired from the driveway, but I discovered Rollin’ Ice, and have been playing there ever since. Once located in a musty hall of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, it is now in the South Side of San Jose within the huge, comfy confines of the Silver Creek Sportsplex.

Compared to ice hockey, where players end up paying for the rink maintenance, roller hockey is a more affordable option. This means I get to play with all the folks that make up my city: Chicano dads who bring their entire family to watch them play; Filipinos who honed their skills at the outdoor Roosevelt rink in the East Side; Indian engineers in tech; young Vietnamese or Cambodian college students; middle-aged white folks who are in construction or run a live-music venue. ¿Y las mujeres? There’s female players who get mad respect here, and will run circles around you.

People of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels, all who fell hard for the sport just like I did, show up every evening. They show up to compete, let off steam, exercise, or whatever their motivation, but mostly to laugh and play. In my 16 years playing, I have become part of this strong, tight-knit community that welcomes anyone with an easy going, team oriented attitude.

Sure, there are ice hockey leagues in San Jose. Many players move on from roller to ice, or play both. There’s mutual respect among players of both; I mean, we all love hockey. But when the media reports on the growth of hockey in the city (San Jose has the largest number of ice hockey players west of the Mississippi), they rarely mention roller hockey players, or our presence in the hockey community. But I’m proud to play this genre of the sport, and will never stop. It’s close to my roots of playing out on the driveway, and I love the familia that I have developed here.

Rolin’ Ice now provides free use of hockey equipment and lessons for beginners, making it even easier for gente to play. People I grew up playing with are now coaching the next generation of chavalitos.

I know that hockey is still a sport largely watched by and played by white folks, but if you place a professional hockey team in a multicultural city, it’s inevitable that the multicultural community will pick it up. It's happened here in San Jose for sure.

One of these days, there’s gonna be a young vato from the rinks of Rollin’ Ice playing in the NHL, maybe with the Sharks. It will affirm the experiences of many San Jose kids like me who discovered the sport, fell in love with it, grew up with it and who have found comunidad at Rollin’ Ice.

 


 

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This article is part of the categories: Arts & Culture  / Community  / Economy  / Immigration  / San Jose//South Bay  / Sports 
This article is part of the tags: Drunken Monkeys  / Hockey Players  / Roller Hockey  / Rollin Ice  / San Jose Sharks  / Sharks 

Comments

When you grow up totally removed from sports, it's hard to understand why so many people live and die by their teams' ranking. Reading your piece helps me better understand the story behind how fans are captivated. It boils down to stories, connections, and a sense of belonging. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Stories like these aren't only helping me understand the fans, but are helping me become one.

Thanks again.

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