Friday, January 28, 2022 Jan 28, 2022
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The Puck Starts Here: Amateur Hockey Catches On

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To most sports-minded Dallasites, hockey appears as a distant distraction. It’s exotic, slightly intriguing, but not very Texan-that is, until recently. Now, a loyal and growing contingent of hockey lovers-both Northern transplants and Southern converts-are proving that hockey can work in the South. They may be only the tip of the iceberg.

More than 400 skaters-male and female, ages four to fifty-belong to the Dallas Junior Hockey Association. Split into youth and adult leagues, the teams play at Prestonwood Town Center and Valley Ranch, the area’s only regulation-size rinks. Because competition for ice time is stiff (hockey must compete with figure skaters and broom-ballers), the adult league plays most of its games in the early morning or late at night.

“It’s worth it,” says Ken Brown, a thirty-year-old Dallasite who first skated after a (en-cent beer night promotion sponsored by the now-defunct Dallas BlackHawks. “Hockey is addictive. It gets into your blood. Hockey appeals to a different kind of person-folks definitely out of the mainstream.”

Unlike the rough black-and-blue brand of play most people assooiate with the sport, the DJHA enables its adult players to retain full grins with teeth intact. Checking-using the body to knock another player from the puck-and fighting are taboo.

“It helps keep our insurance rates down,” explains senior commissioner Ellen Dooley. “It takes some people longer to get used to the rule than others. Players who learn in the DJHA have no trouble with it. Sometimes the Northern players who are used to the traditional game get a little frustrated, by it.”

The level of ability in the Dallas Junior Hockey Association runs the gamut from novices to college lettermen, and the adult league is divided into two divisions so that the talented players are spread over more teams. The DJHA plays year-round, and early sign-up is recommended. Latecomers often must wait well into the season for a roster spot to open.

But it’s the youth league that is really turning heads, and that, Dooley says, is a sign of the sport’s health and staying power in Dallas. The DJHA program is generally considered one of the Southwest’s best-and no, it’s not the Southwest’s only: Austin, Houston, and Oklahoma City have youth hockey programs. In fact, the Houston program has two alums in the National Hockey League, and while the Dallas association can’t match that boast, several of its players have received invitations to attend prestigious Northern hockey boarding schools.

The growing passion for hockey may heat up further on September 30, when the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers clash at Reunion Arena in a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. The exhibition game will introduce more Dallasites to the thrill of flashing skates and flying pucks-and could make it that much harder for the DJHA to find a rink on Saturday mornings.

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