Arizona might not immediately evoke thoughts of ice and hockey, but Scott Ferris is working to change that perception.
Since his introduction to hockey as a child at a Phoenix Roadrunners game, Ferris has been impassioned with the game. He has spent more than 20 years teaching adults at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, Arizona, directing first-time players and experienced teams alike. His hard work and dedication to hockey earned him the honor of being named this year’s USA Hockey Adult Hockey Player of the Year.
USA Hockey: Being named USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Player of the Year is a pretty big honor. What was the first thing that went through your mind when you heard the news?
Scott Ferris: It was a surprise and completely out of the blue. When I was out in Colorado Springs (at Annual Congress) I was told I was nominated three or four times prior and didn’t know it. It was obviously a wonderful thing for me but it was also a tribute to the passion and love for hockey in Arizona. It showed all that we have done in Arizona to advance hockey in the desert.
USA Hockey: How have you seen hockey grow in Arizona?
Ferris: It’s been incredibly rewarding to see hockey come this far. From what I’ve seen – and I’ve been in Arizona since I was 3 years old – it has gone from just one little rink that served all of the area’s purposes, to 11-plus sheets just in Phoenix alone. There are people of all ages playing hockey. You’d be surprised to see certain families who might have previously been known as “baseball families” come out and just love the sport. Sometimes I chuckle when people think Arizona is a state that isn’t quite popular in hockey, but really it’s no longer a strange and exotic sport. It’s no longer an odd mystery here. People really do love hockey.
USA Hockey: The Adult Rookie Class for new and first-time players must help fulfill that hockey desire, right?
Ferris: From what I’ve seen, there are many adults who, for most of their lives, probably yearned to play hockey but never had an outlet to learn. They wanted to play but were afraid they were going to get thrown into the lion’s den with experienced players. We’ve made sure that doesn’t happen, and it’s proven effective. The past 20 years we’ve had a ridiculous amount of success with our adult rookie class. Year after year, it’s more players after more players and it’s all about how we approach them. We remind them that it’s natural to be a bit timid, but once they get on the ice, they become more comfortable and more confident with other new players. Right now we average 35 adults per week, so we must be doing something right.
USA Hockey: The success of your adult rookie class translated into the creation of the Adult D-League. How does that work?
Ferris: It’s been really great to have something like this league for new players. It’s kind of like in golf; everyone wants to get off of the driving range and onto the golf course. So let’s take our beginner players and create their very own league with the D-League. The cost is reasonable, the timing on Sundays is perfect for their families to come out, and they have all of the same things our more advanced teams do. Once they’ve learned the game a bit more they can challenge themselves and move up from the D-League to the C-League. Then they can move from the rookie class to the advanced class and further on down the graph as far as they want to go.
USA Hockey: Are new players ever intimidated by not knowing how to skate or having a lack of basic skills?
Ferris: The best thing about hockey players is that they don’t look down on newer players that aren’t skilled. There’s a certain respect that comes from anybody who tries to step foot onto the ice. What I’ve observed is an almost immediate bond. Experienced players give new players tips on the bench or afterwards when everyone is sitting around, shooting the breeze, they make sure to include everyone. That includes men and women, players of all ages. It doesn’t matter if it’s the woman coming out is in her 50s or 20s, or if a guy is in his 70s versus a young kid at 19. It seems that everybody is in it together. It’s really fun to watch.
USA Hockey: Any final words for adults looking to get into the game for the first time?
Ferris: Thanks to USA Hockey, Oceanside has 35 sets of brand-new equipment at our disposal. We can fit you up. We don’t put you in rental skates. Instead we have good-quality used skates donated by our players. We’ll get your stick custom cut so it’s right for you down to the inch. Every player then gets a 15-minute orientation before you go out. After that first day, you’re going to say, “I wish I would have done this six months ago. That was a great time. I wish I would have come out sooner.”
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”