Disclosure: I am an ambassador and social media influencer for the Jones Center for Families for 2015/16 and have been compensated for my participation. All stories and opinions are my own.
Today we’re skating back into the 90s. Who remembers the Mighty Ducks movies? Show of hockey sticks? Okay, if you won’t admit it, I assume you’re too young or too embarrassed to profess your love for these fun, typically cheesy 90s flicks.
After seeing the first movie in 1992, I had to have rollerblades. Every movie had at least one scene of the Ducks creating havoc on these hockey-like street skates. After getting a pair for Christmas, my sisters and I spent that school break crashing on our driveway as we learned how to inline skate. We also received a small hockey goal and and sticks and we spent nearly every after school hour not reserved for soccer or homework skating up and down our long drive and shooting at the goal. That’s when we started talking about ice hockey.
I begged my parents for ice hockey lessons two Christmases in a row. My mother said “no,” and eventually, “I’ll think about it.” When I received hockey skates and a certificate for skating lessons my junior year, she admitted I had my father to thank. I did. Profusely. I couldn’t wait to get started. After eight weeks on the ice, I could hockey stop, do a crossover to stay with an opponent, and skate backwards. I was ready to play on the ice, but with my schedule full of high school and club soccer and cross country, I didn’t have the time to pursue it. I had to put hockey on the backburner.
My twin sister and I arrived at the University of Arkansas in 1996 (told you we were going back to the 90s). With more hills than flat places (and no Razorback Greenway), we couldn’t find anywhere to rollerblade. Eventually, we settled for gliding up and down our dorm hallway. Whether our fellow residents hated this or not, it certainly made us well known in a short period of time. One of the guys in the coed dorm said the Jones Center was starting a hockey league and asked if we wanted to play. I’d never heard of the Jones Center, but I was in!
The Jones Center opened in Springdale in 1995 as a gift from Bernice Jones to the community. I knew nothing at the time of Harvey and Bernice Jones and their long history in Springdale with their company, Jones Trucking. What I did know was the Jones Center was the only ice arena in Northwest Arkansas, and they were starting a non-checking hockey league, beginners welcome.
Lindsay and I spent our Christmas money getting outfitted for hockey – from stick to helmet to socks and padding. I’d never played a sport that required so much gear. Finally, I was ready to hit the ice.
At the first team practice, I felt as nervous as I did the first day of kindergarten. I was one of three girls on the team, with only four in the league, but the male players welcomed us in. Most of the players had little experience playing ice hockey. This was a new thing to Northwest Arkansas, and with the Jones Center being open a short time, most people hadn’t had the chance to even ice skate that much.
A few players came from more northern places though. Mary, the other girl, had played growing up and skated quite well. The best player on our team was a guy in his seventies who played hockey for years in Minnesota. He helped many of us newbies. We held late night practices when the ice was available, generally after 10 p.m. We practiced face-offs, skating, shots and defense. We’d get back to the dorm around midnight and drape our sweat-soaked and icy gear over the warm radiator in our dorm room.
“It smells like a gym in here,” my mother complained after visiting once. I shrugged. The price one pays to play hockey.
The games started and we faced off against other teams with mostly inexperienced players. I’m sure we looked like a bumbling, ragtag band, (hey, kind of like the Mighty Ducks), but it was some of the most fun I’ve had in my long history of playing sports. I became the most enthusiastic player I could, cheering for teammates when I was off the ice, and skating hard to every puck when I was on it. We didn’t win many games that year, but we had a great time.
The next year I played again as the only girl on my team. Though it was still fun, I realized I was going to have to give more time to soccer and academics, so after two years on the ice, I put my skates away. My younger sister picked up the sport and acquired most of my gear.
Nearly twenty years down the road from that first league, hockey at the Jones Center is thriving. The adult league expanded from one league into two to accommodate more experienced players and continue to welcome beginners. They also offer $5 pick-up nights and skill nights for those who simply want to play a little and become a better player.
The youth league (NWAHA) at the Jones Center serves kids from under 8s through varsity level, and the University of Arkansas Razorback hockey club will field two teams for the first time this year, holding all their home games at the Jones Center and providing Northwest Arkansas plenty of opportunities to watch great hockey throughout the 2015-16 season.
The Jones Center for Families is the only facility in the area where ice hockey is available. I encourage you to try it out. If you’ve never ice skated before, check out a public skate session or even some of their Learn to Skate Classes.
I’m happy to have played a small part in the beginning of hockey in Northwest Arkansas. Perhaps it’s time to dust off the skates again. If you see me on the ice at the Jones Center, say hi, but give me some room for that hockey stop.
Find out more information about hockey at the Jones Center here.
Keep up with all the #JonesCenterFun and #JCHL (Jones Center Hockey League) on social media by following @TheJonesCenter on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Youtube and liking the Jones Center on Facebook.
Jones Center Hockey photos used with permission by the Jones Center for Families.