It's nice to be back on the ice

Islander Dave Parker moves the puck up ice during four-on-four play. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Islander Dave Parker moves the puck up ice during four-on-four play.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

As a youngster in Maine, David Parker grew up with hockey.

“We had a pond that I’d skate on when I was a kid,” Parker said. “And at the country club they’d flood the driving range, plow the snow and put up hockey boards.”

But when the elder Parkers decided that ski weekends at Sugarloaf were going to be a family activity, it was majority rules -- so young David gave up his winter Pee Wee and Bantam games, and traded his hockey skates for a pair of skis.

Years later, he played intermural hockey at St. Lawrence University, and the spark returned.

“I got into essentially what I’m doing now -- minimum gear, nothing full contact.”

When Parker graduated from college in 1982, he hung up the skates a second time. That is, until he got word that an ice arena was opening in Bremerton. Parker ran into fellow islander and hockey buff Steve Queen at a party, and Queen relayed the news of the upcoming construction.

“I said, ‘You’re kidding me! Right on!’ I’d been wishing there was ice skating in Kitsap County since I moved here (in 1988).”

With the grand opening of Bremerton Ice Arena in May of this year, Parker and other ice skating and hockey enthusiasts finally got their wish.

“I have the energy, the aggression. It’s the antithesis of the technical alpine climbing I’m doing now,” Parker said. “That’s 12-14 hours of continuous, precise movements. With hockey, you’re gassed after four minutes.”

Parker outfitted himself with a helmet, shin guards, pants, gloves, socks, elbow pads, stick and jersey at Play It Again Sports for about $230. He added a new pair of skates and shoulder pads and was ready to hit the ice again.

Thursday night drop-in hockey at BIA is for the 30-and-up crowd, but with turnouts occasionally in the single digits, the regulars are more than happy to let younger players participate. Recent islanders in the mix have been Island Center Auto owner John Irven, who played goaltender, and Ruby’s restaurant owner Aaron Crisp.

Players from Bellingham, Sequim, Tacoma, Poulsbo and Kingston regularly make the trip to BIA to drop the puck.

On this particular Thursday night, 26 year-old Julieanna Owens is poke-checking here and there on defense and scrambling to keep up with the older guys. The Victoria, B.C. native, who now lives in Silverdale, was recruited by Parker during an open skate only an hour before.

“I missed playing hockey, so it’s great to be able to do this,” Owens said. “And everyone’s really nice. These guys don’t trip you.”

Other players tonight hail from Bremerton and Belfair, and Pat Margentino is a Fort Bragg, N.C. transplant. There are varying degrees of expertise -- beginners and “guys who haven’t played for a long time,” according to Parker. And there are players like Chris Austin of Bremerton, who looks incredibly competent, and just as confident, skating in and firing slapshots at the net.

Wednesdays are full-blown open hockey nights, with no age restrictions on players, and there are drop-in hockey slots Monday and Friday as well.

BIA also has youth hockey leagues for ages five through 17. There are Beginner (5-8), Mite (6-8), Squirt (9-10), Pee Wee (11-12), Bantam (13-14) and Midget (15-17) classifications, and with throngs of kids now playing summer roller hockey on the island, the transition from concrete to ice has been a natural one.

“The more experienced players really led the way,” said Greg Meakin, owner of BIA. “They came out of the woodwork from day one.”

According to Meakin, the leagues have drawn approximately 150 youth and 75 adults so far. Both adult and youth hockey leagues run year-round, and for those who are less than fleet of foot -- especially when it happens to be in a skate -- BIA offers 10-week Hockey 101 clinics called “Access Ice.” There are also basic skills programs for introductory figure skating and general adult lessons.

“We’ve had a really nice response from Bainbridge Island,” Meakin said. “There’s definitely a core of ice enthusiasts there.”

The arena, designed by island architects Miles Yanick & Co., boasts an arcade, an old-time soda fountain and a cafe. There is a pro shop featuring hockey gear by CCM, Koho, Jofa, ITech and Graf, and both figure and hockey skate rentals are available across the foyer.

And if your nose, toes or backside are frosted after a session on the ice, there’s a lounge area with comfortable chairs and a fireplace to speed the thawing process.

“It would be great for Bainbridge to come up with a Bantam or Pee Wee team,” said Parker, who has regularly been taking his son to the rink to skate.

“I want to see the kids getting into it.”

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