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A hockey league begun for kids in the Parkland is introducing local pre-teens to a sport rarely seen played in southeast Missouri — and the response has gone beyond all expectations.

The man who got the ball rolling last fall is Dale Luster of Park Hills and he couldn’t be more excited.

“Me and my family were at the Bonne Terre Family Fun Center,” he said. “They had just opened up their small roller skating rink and I requested to speak to the manager, Michelle Boren. I asked if me and my son could come in either before or after hours with our own hockey goal and shoot the puck around a little bit. I promised we wouldn’t hurt or break anything.

“I could tell she was thinking about it a little bit. She said, ‘Well, you know we thought about doing hockey’ and then she kind of went from there. I told her that I played before and had liked the sport and if she wanted to get something going my wife and I would volunteer our time to coach a team or two. I never knew it would be as big as it is right now, though.”

Since starting in November, the league now has more than 60 kids playing on six teams — three of them for kids ages 7-9 and three teams for the 10-12 age group.

“And that’s after our first season,” Luster said. “Most people didn’t even know about it or hear about it. It’s still very much in its infancy. We put up Facebook posts on local groups and, before the first open skate, my wife and I hoped we’d have enough players to shoot the puck around a little bit and maybe have two teams play here and there very informally. We didn’t expect to have six hockey teams.

“We also have a Learn to Play program where we have several little bitty guys and girls out there who are just starting out walking really. They’ve got skates on and they’re playing hockey, too. It’s really cool.”

According to Luster, for the most part each coach has their own team — but not in every case.

“A few of us coaches coach multiple teams because we had so many players that somebody had to coach them,” he said. “I coach two teams — a 7- to 9-year-old team named the Snipers. The second one I coach is a 10- to 12-year-old team, and that is Team Slash.

“Michelle didn’t want us to turn down anybody — which I love. We’re a very inclusive hockey group. We’re not excluding anybody yet and we want to continue that as much as we can.”

Not only has Boren encouraged a league where every kid can play, but she has also purchased hundreds of dollars of hockey equipment that she loans out or gives away to all the kids who need it to be able to play.

“It’s a pretty expensive sport to get into and so many of the kids are using her gear out there,” Luster said. “If she hadn’t bought the gear, if she hadn’t offered the rink, none of this would have happened.”

Luster also had words of appreciation for his wife, Jamie.

“My wife does so much behind the scenes — it’s crazy,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here without her. We have a Facebook group that’s specific to the hockey league. There are a couple of hundred people on there. My wife is very active in that. She pretty much runs everything that I don’t want to do! It’s the hard, tedious stuff and she does it like a champ.

“She assembled the teams pretty much and she quickly brought to my attention that we had so many kids that we didn’t have enough coaches. She asked me, ‘Who’s going to coach?’ I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know.’ I offered it to one fellow and he said, ‘No, I can’t do it. I can’t take on that many guys.’ It’s a full-time job, that’s for sure.”

Luster has been surprised by how quickly non-skaters have picked up the skill in just a few months.

“The thing that amazes me is that most of the kids who played for the season could hardly skate at all at the very beginning of the season,” he said. “Some never even really held a hockey stick.

“When we had our first open skate I thought, ‘My gosh, what have we gotten ourselves into?’ Not many of them had a clue, but you could see they were enjoying it. They were having fun. Come to find out, a couple of those kids who had never even held a hockey stick played in the championship game.

“They wanted to play and they picked up these skills that are very unnatural and ran off with them — or skated off with them. They did a great job. I’m so proud of everybody. I’ve had so many parents come up to me happy, but say, ‘You know, so-and-so wants to play hockey again next season.’

“Me and my wife are saying, ‘Great! That’s awesome! We’ll see them next season.’ They say, ‘Well, we’ve already paid for soccer and football and baseball and basketball.’ They take money and the kids are really good at the sports, but they don’t want to play those sports anymore — they want to play hockey.

“It’s not ice hockey — it’s roller hockey. The rink isn’t regulation size and the nets aren’t regulation size and we have so many things that technically shouldn’t work, but we make it work and everyone loves it. It’s a very unique experience in our area and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

For more information visit the "Bonne Terre Family Fun Center Hockey" page on Facebook.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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