Hockey is for everyone: Breaking the Ice

It all started with Hootie and the Blowfish. Or just Hootie; the nickname my dad got from a couple white kids playing street hockey. Live Oak Park. Tulare California. Circa 1995.

The earliest memory I have of playing hockey is at those tennis courts with Hootie & the Blowfish. Hootie is more than just an overused nickname we hear everywhere, including around the rink now. Its history represents the friendships built on that, and every makeshift hockey rink between he and the rest of the band. My dad was originally from Philly. He grew up his whole life a big sports fan, cheering on all the hometown teams including the Philadelphia Flyers. After years in the military, he finally settled down with my mother in California. Their jobs found them in a small farm town called Tulare. Tulare is approximately 30 minutes closer to San Jose then it is to Los Angeles. 30 whole minutes that was the difference between a drive to Kings game and a drive to a Sharks game. So in 1994, when my parents had what would be their first Backyard Hockey hero, a Sharks fan was born.


Tulare is where I spent most of my childhood. From the age of five to about ten, I spent most of my time playing roller hockey at the local rink: Roller Zone. If I wasn't playing hockey there, I was playing all over California with our traveling team. It seemed like every weekend there was a roller hockey tournament. Even in the neighborhood I grew up in,Sunrise Estates, I single-handedly spread the hockey addiction to almost every neighborhood kid we knew. After school, we played street hockey daily with all the neighborhood kids. Where most California kids will look back and remember riding bikes, playing Pokemon or the lucky few on the beach towns who surfed… We'll always remember hockey. Cracked tar road, middle of the street, sticks scraping against the street as often as our knees were, everyone darting for the sidewalk when someone yelled "car!" -- Old school street hockey.

As I grew older, other sports like basketball and football started to grab my interest. At public school where hockey was not an option, I couldn't help but want to stay active in other ways. Kids would always be shocked when they found out I played hockey for the simple fact that it wasn't really popular unless you went looking for it. Not to mention the hilariously common misconception: "There's no black hockey players!" I never found it weird that I was the only black player (besides my dad) out on the rink, though. To me, we were all just hockey players. Because that's the thing about hockey and other sports: out on the rink, everyone is either offense or defense. Nothing else.

Hockey wasn't just important to me, it was a part of who I was. But by the time I was 14, our favorite local rink had closed. My parents had spent years teaching hockey here: My dad refereeing my own leagues. My sister and I working behind the skate counter when we were supposed to be doing homework. I had been raised in that rink.

After the closing of Roller Zone, I decided to take a break from hockey. Even though our neighbor town Visalia had a great hockey program going at the time, they had always been a rival to our league. I felt this was my chance to try some new things and that's exactly what I did. I began to find other passions of mine, like music and playing for the school basketball teams. But my love for hockey never left. I was itching for an opportunity to start slap shotting again.

That opportunity came soon. When I entered high school, I got the chance to play ice hockey for the first time in Fresno, about 45 minutes from my hometown. All over again, I fell in love with the sport of hockey. For years I had only played roller hockey and gone to minor league ice hockey games. No other sport I had previously played matched the same speed and intensity of ice hockey. The best way I could describe it is that it's one sport that involved small features of every sport I loved. All the best parts of these sports molded into one and played on ice. That was Ice Hockey.

From there, hockey stayed a big part of my life. And life somehow made it happen! I went from liking the sport to getting a Sharks tattoo for free from a LA Kings fan! I went from watching the games on TV to winning sweepstakes tickets to the outdoor game. Hockey has always been good to me. Over the years of playing hockey all over California, I've gained friends from all over. I still get those looks at first when other players see me out on the rink. They might be confused or assume I don't know what I'm doing; but once my skates hit the ice and I put that puck in my possession… no one has to wonder. It's just hockey at that point. And every player on the ice can respect that.

Nobody realizes that being a minority in hockey fuels my passion, that my drive comes from being half Samoan and half African American and showing that I can not only play hockey, but I'm good at it. And I feel like that goes for a lot of minorities with accolades like mine. Your pride comes from somewhere more humble. Seeing African American players in the NHL every day just shows that it's a universal game and anyone from any background could be successful and talented if they tried the sport.


My love for the game and my team eventually moved me to San Jose, and my hockey experience has come full circle. I got the chance to play a full game at the SAP Center, as well as playing with many people of different ethnicities at Sharks Ice. The diversity here shows how much the sport has grown and I love seeing that. Now I see people of Asian descent, Arabian, and even Spanish. It was eye opening to me coming from the Central Valley, because I had always felt so alone and I took pride in being different. Hockey is for Everyone who is willing to try it. It doesn't have to be 24 degrees outside and snowing, either. Looking back, sometimes I tend to forget it all started as backyard hockey. Everything that brought me where I am today began somewhere small, on the wrong kind of road, in the wrong setting for hockey. But sometimes it takes someone doing it "wrong" to show people there's a different way of doing it "right."

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