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Where ice is available, the passion of American youth for hockey is understandable, but that same ardor is surprisingly strong where ice is scarce, as Photographer Walter Iooss Jr. reveals on these pages. New York kids simply clamp on roller skates instead and contrive to find their own veins of Orr on streets and iceless rinks.
Street scenes like the one at right in Brooklyn—the players operating on the assumption that they will not be maimed by approaching motor vehicles, but alert as deer nonetheless—are becoming rarer as the game proliferates on rink and playground. The action is its own reward; no roller hockeyist will ever make it to the NHL.
It is played against the graffiti of a Manhattan alley and in a Brooklyn park by the waters of the Verrazano Narrows—anywhere, everywhere. Individualists all, the players wear a little of this and a little of that. They are street wise and proud of it, and they make the most of what they have.
Feminine fans eye the action at a Brooklyn rink as a would-be Beliveau goes over the boards, and a ref demonstrates child care, roller division.
Here a guy can wheel for Real
In the beginning it was played as a challenge: the Fourth St. Eagles against the Fifth St. Dukes. The kids wore clamp-on roller skates, shin guards made of The Saturday Evening Post and 49� workman's gloves. They bounced each other off parked cars, chasing a rubber ball or a piece of wood. A fat kid always played goalie. He stood in his sneakers between two parked cars, a first baseman's glove on his hand and a cushion he had stolen out of a moving van tucked under his belt. There were no offsides, but every time the little rascal who stayed in front of the other guys' goal put one in, kids would shout, "Hey, man, you hangin', you hangin'. That don't count." Everyone would turn to the biggest kid, whose name was Mickey or Maxie or Mario, and he would decide. The name of the game was street hockey.
Then the Parks Department and Police Athletic League built chicken-wire cages and moved the games into playgrounds. Pro hockey expanded in 1967 and the city game followed. Rinks were built, leagues formed, rules and equipment standardized. Now people play in the street only when they have to. The name of the game is roller hockey.
They say it started in Canada the day a kid took a branch and swatted a hunk of frozen horse manure, but its character is urban U.S.A.; in Canada they have ice skates—and ice. From out of the Depression it came, a game for kids with more ingenuity than money. It is iceless ice hockey and it is replacing stickball in urban folklore.
In New York City there are only seven ice-skating rinks but there are hundreds of playgrounds for roller skating. Roller-hockey equipment costs at least $50 per kid, nearly as much as an ice-hockey outfit, but there are no charges for ice time, and league registration fees are minimal.
"There's action and hitting," says Ray-Ray Recco, 12, of Brooklyn. "It takes coordination and talent," says his 16-year-old friend Steve Cibelli. "I like the contact," offers Tim Spillane, 12, of Manhattan. A 25-year-old telephone repairman who still plays on weekends says, "It's the greatest game there is. It has competition, contact, movement. Baseball? You going to watch strikes go by for nine innings?"