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Youths Warming Up to Ice Hockey

In-line skating has sparked new interest and given boys and girls an edge on learning the game.


Little kids are joining ice hockey teams, boys and girls as young as 8 and 9. What are they doing in such a dangerous sport, you may be asking?

Participation in youth ice hockey in Ventura County has boomed--up 100% in the last two years--according to Sean McGillivray, operator of an ice rink in Simi Valley. "But the incidents of kids getting hurt in ice hockey are less than Little League baseball."

Both the increased interest and the safety issue, says McGillivray, spring from the same source--in-line skating: "Kids got into working with a hockey stick with their rollerblading games and then decided to try [playing] on the ice. There, they had to wear shin guards, helmets, face masks--everything was covered."

Although McGillivray's facility, Easy Street Arena, is the only one in the county, its two ice rinks serve hundreds of local kids--organized into coed teams by age groups--plus out-of-town junior teams that come there to compete.

The "in-house" league at the arena is organized into teams with colorful names such as "Mites" for kids 8 and under, "Squirts" for those 9 to 10 and "Peewee" for kids 11 and 12. They play all their games at the arena.

There are also traveling teams, organized by age, which play at the Simi Valley rink and in neighboring towns. Ventura County kids can join a local traveling crew called "The Thunder." They can even join traveling teams based in other towns, such as the Burbank-based "Golden Bears" or the "West Valley Wolves."

Another factor that helps to explain the sport's increased popularity with local kids is the success of one of their own: Angela Ruggiero is a Simi Valley-bred, nationally rated junior ice hockey star--who started in the game at 7 and now at 16 is being offered sports scholarships by several major Ivy League colleges.

Ruggiero, presently in her third year on full scholarship at Choate--a prep school in Connecticut--started on the ice at McGillivray's rink, which was then in Newbury Park.

Currently, she's the captain of the U.S. National Junior Women's Team. According to Angela's father, Ken, she's also made the Women's National Team, the youngest person in that competitive category. Women's ice hockey will, for the first time, be a "full medal" sport at the Winter Olympics in 1998, and Angela is will likely be skating for the United States, her dad says.


There is evidence that movies and even books are also boosting the popularity of ice hockey among kids.

A recent series of movies about the exploits of kids who play ice hockey, "The Mighty Ducks" caught the attention of one kid in Burbank.

Bobby Scott, 8, who now plays in a "Squirt" team at the Pickwick Ice Center near his home, recalls, "I looked at those movies [on the VCR] again and again. Those kids were having fun!"

Whenever the "Golden Bears" visit the arena from their home rink in Burbank, 15-year-old Eu Hee Han hits the ice with the team. The Flintridge Prep sophomore, who started out as a figure skater, got into the game because of a novel she read, "Who Put The Hair In My Toothbrush."

"It was about a girl who liked ice hockey--a girl who was having trouble with her brother," she recalls. That was two years ago, and Han today says she enjoys the competition on the ice.


* FYI: The Youth Ice Hockey League, which plays its games in Simi Valley, is holding 1966 fall tryouts (called "evaluations") for teams made up of kids 8 and under, also kids 8 to 17, at Easy Street Arena, 131 W. Easy St. Call (805) 520-7465 for information on membership fees and the evaluation day timetable which is set up according to ages.

* ON THE ROAD: For information on "The Thunder," a Ventura County-based youth ice hockey traveling team, which plays in Simi Valley and surrounding towns, call (805) 496-0956.

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