By Angela Busch
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. — Hours after the players, parents, vendors and inline skates had been cleared out of Germain Arena, crews were hard at work.
Since July 13, the North American Roller Hockey Championships had overtaken the arena — replacing ice with Mateflex tile surfaces and bladed hockey skates with wheeled ones. But Sunday was the final day of NARCh, and recreation rink director Dave Kessel was focused on getting back to everyday business.
“You know, it actually got a little warm in here for me,” Kessel said. “I like the cold. We are first and foremost an ice sport building, and we’ll have ice by next Friday.”
While the NARCh participants didn’t take long to pack up and head back to their homes (anywhere from California to Japan to Mexico to South America), the roller hockey tournament’s impact was fully felt on Southwest Florida.
“The big benefactors are definitely Collier and Lee county restaurants and hoteliers,” Kessel said, laughing slightly. “That’s one thing that’s not debatable.”
This was NARCh’s biggest year ever, with 402 teams — 40 more than when Germain Arena hosted the tournament in 2005.
“It wasn’t much busier, because we can still only fit so many games for each time slot,” Kessel said. “But there were more days, and they lasted a little bit longer. Sometimes I was here at 6 in the morning and didn’t leave until 1 a.m.”
Roller hockey, most popular in California, does seem to be catching on a little bit in Southwest Florida. Area teams such as the Gulf Coast Storm and the Florida Rage (made up of Junior Everblades Pee Wee ice hockey players) represented the region well. The Naples Thunder 35 & over men’s team and Naples High School team finished fourth in their divisions.
Gaining the most notice was probably Florida Everblades ’06-07 veteran Ernie Hartlieb, whose Mission Syndicate team won the pro final 7-2 over Mission Militia on Saturday night.
Hartlieb scored the first goal of the game, to the delight of several Blades fans in attendance.
It was his first championship at Germain Arena.
“I wish it was with the Blades … I’ll still savor this, though,” he said afterward.
Like Hartlieb, many roller hockey players use the sport as a fun offseason alternative to ice hockey. NARCh, with its wacky uniforms (including tuxedo shirts with pink bowties for the Mission Mafia), seems to be the pinnacle of that fun.
As the workers rolled up the Mateflex and crews began making ice, not only NARCh but summer too seemed closer to its end. Ice hockey season can only be right around the corner.
“The Junior Everblades will start practice in two weeks,” Kessel said.