Hockey stop


Zoe Bhargava

Oliver Rowles (‘15) and Eli Givens (‘16) are two of Paly’s student athletes who found passions for the sport of hockey at a young age. Both Rowles and Givens had to give up hockey when coming to Paly.

Hard, fast hits. Cold, slick ice. Long wooden sticks and one small three inch rubber puck. All of which are key parts of hockey, an intense sport for the physically tough and proficient skaters with deft stickhandling ability that can endure long periods of fast play and constant body aches. Played in every single one of the 22 Winter Olympic Games, ice hockey has dominated as one of the most commonly watched and discussed sports in the winter games. Despite its vast popularity through the Olympics and the National Hockey League (NHL), hockey is a sport played by only a small number of high schoolers in California.

Three of Paly’s student athletes have found a passion for the sport of hockey outside of Paly. They have all endured the sport’s physicality, but have come across bigger obstacles regarding the regional accessibility of the sport in the area. Nate Althoff (‘17) has managed to continue with the sport through high school, but like a large majority of hockey lovers in Palo Alto, Oliver Rowles (‘15) and Eli Givens (‘16) have found it hard to pursue the sport in high school and have both given up the sport that they love.

Althoff has experienced the physically, financially and timely intensive sport of ice hockey at the club level in California. He plays center and is the captain of his A-league team, the Redwood City Blackstars. Althoff discovered his love for the ice at a young age.

“I started playing hockey when I was 7 years old,” Althoff said. “I did a program at the rink where I learned to skate and found it really fun, so I started playing hockey.”

A fast-paced game, hockey is not an easy sport. What makes hockey unique is the level of skill required to play the game. Ice skating is a prerequisite to compete in the sport, and only then can a player become proficient at the ins and outs of the game.

“At the beginning I was a really bad skater and my form was bad,” Althoff said. “But I just had to work at it and eventually got better and I now love it. I love how fast it is, how quick paced it is. You are always going.”

On top of the skills needed to play the game, hockey requires a lot of physical strength. A contact sport, hockey consists of constant checks and hits. In fact, ice hockey is the only professional sport where fist fights are common in games; fans often look forward to these key moments of games.

“You are always sore, you are always beat up, but you get used to it after playing for a long time,” Althoff said.

Due to the lack of teams within the Bay Area available for younger players, hockey in Palo Alto requires intensive time commitment. The dispersal of teams throughout California and outside of the San Jose area causes Althoff to travel often with his team for games far away.

“Our games are all over, we go as far as Tahoe,” Althoff said. “We have to travel a lot for the sport.”

This lack of accessibility to teams is why many players have seen their hockey careers end while living in California. Hockey is easier to play in places where it is a dominant sport, such as in Canada. In the 2013 NHL draft, 96 of the drafted players were Canadian, 58 were European and 57 were American.

In addition to being popular in Canada, hockey is also common on the East Coast and in the Midwest, where snow and ice are abundant in the winter time in comparison to California. The 2014 American Olympic men’s hockey roster consists of players originally from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Montana, with not a single player from California. The lack of California professional hockey players draws a parallel between the number of hockey players at the high school level because of the clear limit of access to hockey teams in California.

Similar to Althoff, Rowles has a passion for hockey. Rowles played the sport in New York up until he moved to California at the beginning of his junior year. He noticed a difference in attitudes towards hockey between living in New York and California.

“Hockey is a big deal on the East Coast, but it doesn’t seem as much of one [in California],” Rowles said.

In New York, Rowles started playing hockey at a young age and continued with the sport on both club teams and school teams as he grew up.

“I started playing hockey when I was 6 years old when I lived in New York,” Rowles said. “I played for a school team all throughout middle school and for a club team throughout high school.”

Rowles expressed that the time commitment was huge when playing in New York, similar to the experiences of Althoff.

“Last year I played about six days a week, it was pretty hard,” Rowles said. ”I would have late practices from 8:30 to 10:30 every night. I missed a lot of weekends for tournaments out-of-state. It was a big commitment.”

The availability of teams in New York helped Rowles continue on with the sport through all levels, but after moving he found it harder to play in California.

“I would’ve played here had it been more accessible and easier to get to,” Rowles said.

In California the majority of teams are club teams and the few high schools that have hockey teams are private. The cost of being a part of a club hockey team adds up as club dues, ice time fees, equipment costs, and travel fees are just some of the many expenses of playing hockey at the club level.

Like Rowles and Althoff, Givens enjoyed playing hockey from a young age of 7, but because of the huge financial commitment Givens had to give up the sport at the beginning of his freshman year.

“I played until freshman year because it got very expensive and hard,” Givens said. “Unfortunately I had to give it up.”

Playing goalie for a travel club team after fourth grade, Givens experienced the same serious time commitments that other players face as they grow more competitive with the sport. Like Althoff, Givens played games all over California because of the lack of teams in the closer regions.

“I played in house for a club team, and in the fourth grade I started playing on the travel team for the California Cougars,” Givens said. “It was a lot of time and pretty hard. I would have to wake up before school for practice, and I would have to play games in a lot of different and far places.”

Givens expressed the same beliefs of Rowles regarding ice hockey in California in comparison to the sport in the East and Canada.

“We just don’t have as many tools [as players in other areas] because it isn’t as big of a sport here,” Givens said.

Primarily limited to being only a club sport for most students, hockey is a difficult sport to continue playing throughout high school due to the time commitment, financial regards and regional accessibility. When asked if they would have continued hockey had it been offered at Paly, both Rowles and Givens contested they would have loved to continue the sport. As high school sports are supported and funded primarily by the school resources, many more students have opportunities to play sports sponsored by schools.

“If Paly had a hockey team, it would’ve made it a lot easier,” Givens said. “I would’ve really loved to keep playing the sport, but even with scholarships from the team I had to give it up.”

Despite having to give up the sport himself, Givens still continues to be passionate about hockey as he is a huge San Jose Sharks fan. Givens also works at the Winter Lodge, so he still gets to be around the rink. Rowles also still loves the sport and hopes to pick it up again in the future.

“It was hard to give up because I love the game,” Rowles said. “I’m still considering playing next year or in the future.”

Though ice hockey may be difficult to continue to play at the California high school level, it is an intense sport to follow at the professional level. With the San Jose Sharks and the presence of NHL teams, the sport lives on in California despite the sport’s regional ties to colder areas. In addition to the NHL, hockey lovers can look forward to the Winter Olympic games where both the American men and women are poised to be in competition for medals in their respective ice hockey events. <<<