Hunt brothers bring roller hockey back to Winnipeg
If you happen to see or hear a little extra activity around Maginot Arena in St. Boniface these days, chalk it up to roller hockey.
Seems Michael and Frank Hunt, a pair of ex-hockey players-turned-entrepreneurs, have taken over three floors of the old arena and are preparing to bring one of the most popular forms of hockey in the United States back to Manitoba.
The plan, according to Michael Hunt, is to create Central Canadian Roller Hockey as an off-season alternative for kids and adults who love ice hockey but aren’t sure they want to play the game 12 months of the year.
“We are going all in to give an alternate sport for kids to play and along with that, help ice hockey players develop incredible skill sets to progress in their development,” he said. “I have permission from NHL players Bobby Ryan, Pat Maroon, Chris Terry, and Cory Conacher to use their likenesses and let everyone know that roller hockey played an integral part in their making the NHL. The number of players in the NHL right now with roller-hockey backgrounds is staggering and at some point we have to grow it as a viable sport, not only for roller hockey, but also to enhance our ice-hockey players. We’re looking to have a year-round facility.”
Frank Hunt, 56, was an ice-hockey goaltender who starred in the old CASH League. He played for the E.K.- Elmwood Millionaires and St. Boniface Mohawks and ended his career with the Thunder Bay Twins, where he led the club to an Allan Cup in 1984. He had a try out with the Jets as a 20-year-old in 1979, but didn’t make the team and went back to senior hockey.
Michael Hunt, 47, has been one of Canada’s great roller-hockey players. He won a bronze medal at the 2003 FIRS World Championship in Czech Republic, a silver medal at the 2004 Worlds in London, Ont., a silver at the 2005 World Championships in Duisberg, Germany and a gold at the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia. He has been a 13-time national champion and a seven-time national professional champion with the legendary Team Rink Rat. He’s also a certified hockey and roller-hockey coach.
Of course, he was originally a hockey player who started his career in St. James. He played high school hockey with the John Taylor Pipers, then junior with the St. James Canucks and then Senior with the Winkler Royals. But he didn’t earn international success until he moved to Boston and started playing pro roller hockey.
Now he wants to give back some of the joy he’s received from the game to today’s young players.
“I love this game for so many reasons,” he said. “We play four-on-four during regulation time. There is no icing, no offside and no body contact. It gives players more room and allows them to work on their hockey skill development.
“Roller hockey is game of speed, skill, cardio, fitness, playmaking and shooting and it’s a tremendous spring alternative to ice hockey.”
Although, it is hockey. In 2012 Bauer Hockey and Hockey Canada created the Grow the Game partnership. The goal is to have one million registered hockey players in Canada by 2022 and that number includes all registered hockey players – ice hockey, ball hockey, sledge hockey or roller hockey.
And there is also an International Ice Hockey Federation Roller Hockey World Championship. In fact, Canada is the reigning 2015 IIHF World Champion.
The Hunt brothers’ new Central Canadian Roller Hockey (CCRH) will operate leagues of every possible age group and skill level. It will cost between $200 and $300 to play 15-20 games, along with skill development and practice sessions. The organizers are currently operating on three floors of the Maginot and are working to acquire other old, de-commissioned city rinks such as Old Ex.
“There are a number of myths that have haunted the game but they are indeed that – myths,” said Michael. “People have said roller hockey hurts your ice-skating stride. Not true. With the new technology and the Sports Court surface we play on, your hockey stride won’t be hurt. In fact, it might actually improve.
“And you can get a roller-hockey scholarship. It’s a club sport in the United States. Lindenwood University and Bethel University offer athletic scholarships for roller hockey.”
The list of NHL players who have played roller hockey is impressive: T.J. Oshie, Sam Gainer, Antti Niemi, Rick DiPietro, Gilbert Brule, Alex Burrows, Jason Chimera, Manny Legace, Wayne Simmonds, Luc Robitaille, Stefan Robidas, Mike Ribeiro, Milan Hejduk, Pat Maroon and Brandon Bollig. Obviously, the game was good for them.
“It’s a tremendous game and it’s a great spring alternative for hockey players,” said Michael. “And it’s not only competitive, but it’s a lot of fun.”
– SCOTT TAYLOR, MyToba.ca