Sports

Hockey in Oak Harbor

"Speed, as in skating full-bore across a wooden floor, is an essential aspect of roller hockey. So is the ability to make razor-sharp cuts and turns on in-line skates, slice and dice with a hockey stick and whack a puck past a goalie at 90 mph.All of which was happening on a recent Thursday evening in Oak Harbor's Roller Barn as the Whidbey Prowlers, an emergent - if locally low-profile - roller hockey team, bopped, whacked and rolled to the ear-pounding strains of Metallica.Being able to practice in Oak Harbor was a treat for the team, a collection of sailors from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and two civilians. Roller hockey hasn't yet caught fire on Whidbey. Consequently, the players either practice in Burlington, or on empty tennis and basketball courts in Oak Harbor. Then they drive hours to play in places like Bangor and Everett.But traveling as much as 11 hours to play is a price they willingly pay, says team captain Chris Hunter, because the game is worth it.They call hockey the fastest game in the world, Hunter says. There's a lot of contact and competition and it's exciting. If you're not breathing hard by the end of the game you didn't play hard enough.Hunter, after sprinting up and down the length of floor for the last 10 minutes, is and has. So have many of the other 11 Prowlers.They've been taking turns practicing puck handling and shooting - skating break-neck and whacking the puck. And sometimes colliding and crashing to the wooden floor.Padding and proper equipment, like elbow pads, shin guards, hip pads, helmets, center-of-gravity protectors and gloves are essential, Hunter says. You fall down a lot, he explains.The game the team plays is called four-on-four - two forwards, two defensemen and a goalie for each team.And except for the skates and an absence of brawls and checking, it's very similar to the iced variety.It's hockey, it's just you don't hit, you're not allowed to check, Hunter says. Instead of hitting a guy, you just get in the way.In their first season together, the Prowlers are relative newcomers to the roller hockey ranks. Burlington's had teams since the 1960s and its Team Northwest has won 12 national championships.But Team Northwest won't win 13 championships if Prowlers team founder Brent Doll has anything to do with it.Doll said the Prowlers lost the first match of the Spring Season to Team Northwest. Since then they've won six straight matches. Now, Doll says, it's payback time.On June 19 at 9 p.m., the Prowlers will face off against Team Northwest again at Skagit Skate, behind Big 5 Sports in Burlington. Doll figures if they win, the Prowlers have a good shot at winning the rest of their games this season. Our team's really come together this year, Doll says. That's why I figure we're gonna win. We really want them bad.Doll started playing in-line hockey on a regular basis in 1999, with NAS Whidbey's base hospital team. They played their matches at Bangor, making the 11-hour roundtrip from NAS Whidbey every Saturday for 10 weeks. The team made it to the preseason playoffs but finished third out of four teams.We pretty much sucked the first year, he says.Being a member of a Navy team also had its drawbacks.Most of the players from that team were transferred to other duty stations.We lost the core of our team getting transferred, Doll said. Our captain, starting goalie and best two-way player.So along with one former teammate, goalie Juan Guedea, Doll recruited enough players to put together the new Prowlers by February 2000. With a better team and a crucial match coming up, all that's lacking is a little recognition, Doll says. And maybe a place to practice a little closer to home. Maybe then, he adds, they'd have more time to practice, more recognition and be able to draw more fans than their wives and girlfriends and friends. We always knew we had talent, Doll says. But there was no time to practice and the only place we had to play was Burlington. And that's an hour-and-a-half roundtrip.This is only the second time we've been in here, he adds nodding into the dark reaches of the Roller Barn.Still, roller hockey might be gaining a toehold in Oak Harbor.The Prowlers have a regular Thursday practice slot, for now, says Partnership with Youth Director Roosevelt Rumble, who's organization manages the Roller Barn.Whether they play at home or on the road, no one seems to be in a hurry to leave the floor. To stop slicing and dicing and whacking the puck.Metallica is booming over the sound system, a group of kids have gathered to watch and on this night, the Whidbey Prowlers are a home-town team."

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