Saturday’s benefit supports local charites

Let’s face it, Indy is not a hockey town. Boston, New York, Toronto, St. Louis, Montreal, Chicago and Detroit, these are hockey towns. Detroit, for Pete’s sake, is called Hockey Town USA. Not that Indy doesn’t have a long history and tradition of hockey. This city has been home to nine teams since 1939, five have shared the same name.

The Indianapolis Capitals (AHL 1939-52) Chiefs (IHL 1955-63) Capitols (CPHL 1963) Racers (WHA 1974-78) Checkers (CHL 1979-84) Checkers (IHL 1984-87) Ice (IHL 1988-99) Ice (CHL 1999-2004) and Indiana Ice (USHL 2004-2006) have all called the Circle City home.

We have never been home to an NHL franchise, not even a team that began here and then moved on, lets say, to Colorado, Carolina or Dallas, but we were home to The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Although he only played 8 games for the Indianapolis Racers in 1978, the then 17-year-old Wayne Gretzky gave all Hoosiers eternal bragging rights. He scored only 3 goals and dished out only 3 assists but our collective optimism let us believe Indy was to become home to a rising star and the future home of an NHL team in the Indianapolis Racers; it was not to be.

That notwithstanding, Indy is home to a hockey team, the Indiana Ice, a United States Hockey League franchise. The USHL is unique in that all players must be 20 years old or younger at the beginning of the season. They are managed by USA Hockey and are the only Tier I junior league in America; tier I is the top division of junior hockey in the United States. Players who participate in the league do not lose their amateur status in their quest to move up to the college and pro ranks. The league helps the players with their higher education goals and develops their hockey talents as well. Placement into college and assisting the players with scholarships are the league’s primary goals. Players are not paid to play in the USHL and they generally move to a team’s city and are assisted with part-time jobs and living quarters.

These kids are young, some are still in high school, but they possess raw talent and potential and they play the fastest and bravest sport around. Fastest? Yes. Hockey players compete in a full-contact sport where they can achieve speeds of between 20-30 miles per hour. Bravest? Yes. If you doubt it, strap on a pair of skates and mix it up on the ice. Better yet, don a goalie’s gear, about 50 pounds of equipment, and then try, really try, to stop a frozen rubber puck heading straight at you at 100 miles per hour. Goalies can lose upwards of five to seven pounds of their own body weight in just a few hours during a game. Now that’s bravery.

Although the Ice are not at the top of the standings, they are in a battle with Waterloo for the last playoff spot in the East Division and they do lead the league in average attendance at better than 4300 per game. The Ice play their home games at the Pepsi Coliseum located in the Indiana State Fairgrounds. It is the place where hockey was born in Indianapolis and has hosted hockey for almost 70 years. It opened in November of 1939 to a capacity crowd, 8,100 for hockey, and a win by the Indianapolis Capitals over the Syracuse Stars.

Make plans to attend the 12th annual Key Bank “Pack the House for Charity Night” on Saturday, Feb. 25 when the Ice face the Des Moines Buccaneers at 7 p.m. at Conseco Fieldhouse. “Pack the House Night” began during the 1994-95 season as a way for the Ice to give back to Central Indiana. The Ice combines forces with local charities to help them raise money for their foundations. These organizations receive a percentage of all ticket sales for the night produced by their efforts plus a generous grant. Last year’s “Pack the House” night drew a USHL record crowd of 14,892 and raised over $26,000. Indianapolis charities that will receive funds from this year’s event are St. Vincent Children’s Hospital, the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation-Indiana Chapter, and the Muscular Dystrophy Family Foundation.

Tickets for the game are available at all TicketMaster locations including select Marsh Supermarkets, Karma Records, select L.S. Ayres, the Indiana State Fairgrounds and Conseco Fieldhouse box offices or by calling (317) 239-5151 or online at ticketmaster.com.

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