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He's lining up behind inline hockey

CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

As the sports world grows, splinters and diversifies, here's a new activity that could become something of a national pastime for the younger set. The best and brightest are now on display in Huntington Beach.

July 05, 2011|Chris Erskine
  • The Inline Hockey Junior Olympics is being staged this week in Huntington Beach; this game is in the girls' under-14 division.
The Inline Hockey Junior Olympics is being staged this week in Huntington… (Debora Robinson )

The variety of summer activities — now playing in camps, clinics and tourneys — is a further reminder that the days of three major sports are over. There is, seemingly, a sport for every kid and temperament.

For the cerebral, there is cross-country. For the anti-cerebral, there is football.

For the old-schoolers, there is baseball. For the new-schoolers, there is lacrosse.

For the jumpy, there is volleyball. For the ironic, surfing.

Ironically, I have never surfed myself, yet I find myself down here in Huntington Beach, mecca of the sport, actually mecca of every sport.

Huntington Beach may be best remembered as the place where Victoria lost her secret, but over the last few decades HB has also become one of America's sports hubs, along with places like Boulder, Colo., and Bozeman, Mont., scenic venues where an outdoor lifestyle is embraced.

Point is, it's very active and hyper-healthy down here. No wonder I gravitated to it, specimen that I am.

In this case, I am down for the Inline Hockey Junior Olympics and Adult Nationals, being held at five area rinks through Sunday, featuring teams from Australia, Colombia, Hong Kong and points in between.

Inline hockey is the kind of off-the-radar sport I am drawn to like open-mike nights or all-you-can-cram sushi joints.

"Hey, what's that?" I ask, and before you know it I am thick in the middle of some new activity. It's basically the same way Romeo met Juliet.

The schedule here is relentless, running from 6 a.m. to almost midnight. In one game, a girls' team from the hockey hotbed of Colombia — see, that's irony right there — is taking on Australia.

I'm curious to see if the Australian skaters swirl the rink in the opposite direction, like water down the drain, on account of they are from the allegedly clockwise Southern Hemisphere. Turns out they don't, but how cool would it have been if they did?

Anyway, inline hockey is basically regular hockey played on rollerblades, those things everybody used to ride up and down parks and boardwalks, till they realized it was turning their thighs into oil drums. Now everyone runs or rides bikes again, but the memories are still pretty raw.

Ice hockey players love-love-love inline hockey, because it gives them something to do during the off-season, which is now through next week.

"I like it because I can play it in my driveway," explains Dawson Brigman, a member of an under-12 team from San Jose.

If you were impressed with the way Dawson formed a complete sentence, without so much as a "like" or "ummmmm," join the club. I found the lad quietly articulate, and his dad, Vince, standing by beaming, couldn't have been prouder.

And Dawson said it while flipping a puck on his stick like a hotcake, all the more impressive. Why is it that preteens can't stand still? They vibrate like tuning forks.

Which is one more reason to embrace inline hockey. It helps kids tune their forks.

And anything that gets young men away from video games (and young women) is all right by me.

In fact, they say this form of hockey is growing globally since it doesn't require ice, as in Canada and Finland. Granted, those are countries built on permafrost and they have no choice.

Inline hockey is also different in that it:

--Doesn't call offside.

--Doesn't call icing.

--Forbids checking.

Basically, there are no rules at all in inline hockey, and I'm left to wonder why they even have refs, except to enforce the no-checking rule, which honestly doesn't come up all that often. The only time they blow their whistles is to order lunch.

Nonstop action like this a nice trait in a sport, and I've got to add I've always wondered what soccer would be like if it dropped the offside rule. What you'd probably have is more scoring and higher ratings, which couldn't be good for anyone (more irony).

In any case, some 3,000 athletes have come to town to play inline hockey, a not insignificant number. If you've been to LAX the last week or so, you've probably seen kids with hockey sticks everywhere and . . . well, now you know why.

The Anaheim Ducks, who subsidize much of this, see the program as seeding their young fan base, and some coaches swear that players who start with inline hockey before moving on to ice hockey develop at a more impressive rate.

Local boy Beau Bennett, 20th pick in the 2010 NHL draft, is a prime example. He started with roller hockey and moved on to ice, while growing up in Gardena. His sister Bailey is playing in the current tournament.

In any case, inline hockey is probably here to stay, an addendum to the traditional game but becoming more and more a sport all its own. With events like this, it may have reached critical mass.

Did I mention Colombia is here? Yes, that Colombia — hockey capital of the equator.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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