By Kirsten Staple

On September 30, 2021, I made a very important memory. On that Thursday, I took my Dad and my friends to meet the greatest trophy in sports: the Stanley Cup.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to travel too far to see it; it was located at the San Jacinto Plaza  in Downtown El Paso for the 2020 Kraft Hockeyville USA celebration. Wait, how did the Stanley Cup end up in El Paso? The El Paso Rhinos won the 2020 Kraft Hockeyville USA contest (which they received money to improve their rink, purchase more equipment and to top it all off, a preseason NHL game as their prize).

We got to meet the Stanley Cup and I couldn’t believe it. Seeing the Stanley Cup in person had me breathless and it was so cool; I even touched the cup for a few seconds. At this event, I also got to meet three former Arizona Coyotes players including former Captain Shane Doan as well.

A few days later, on October 3, my Dad and I went to our first hockey game at the El Paso County Events Center. The rink’s atmosphere was buzzing; it was full of people from all ages, backgrounds, and team affiliations. The matchup was between the Arizona Coyotes and Dallas Stars.

We sat right behind the Stars’ bench and I got to see Tyler Seguin, the reason why I became a hockey fan, play in person. The game was an amazing experience; my Dad and I had so much fun and it was something brand new for both of us. I had always known in the back of my mind that El Paso had a youth hockey team and when I lived in San Antonio, they used to have an  AHL team in the area but I had never gone to either team’s games before. 

Growing up, I watched a lot of football and some basketball with my Dad and I went to a few Chihuahuas games. I didn’t play sports growing up and I never considered myself to be a sports fan until I got into hockey. I became a fan in an unconventional way. In January 2020, I saw a photo of Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin online and I became curious about who he was. That curiosity led me to learning more about the sport; my research grew into a great love and passion for the game and even led me on the path to considering a career in sports.

One thing that I have learned about hockey is that there’s still some progress to be made in regards to growing the game. I love hockey a lot and I enjoy showing it to others because it allows them to experience what I think is an underrated sport.

To me, hockey is fun and fascinating but misunderstood due to the stigma and confusion that linger around the sport. For example, due to the fact that it rarely snows in El Paso, some people are surprised to hear that there is a hockey team in the area. As a woman of color, I’ve received mixed reactions on how I actually like hockey. Contrary to popular belief, hockey isn’t just for one type of person. 

Compared to other sports, the rules about playing hockey aren’t always well known. However, hockey actually shares some similarities with soccer. In both soccer and hockey, there are penalty shots, goalies who have protect the goal and shootouts. On the other hand in hockey, if a penalty occurs, a player is removed for a short period of time and their team plays shorthanded until the penalty is either killed via a goal or the penalty time runs out.  Fighting is allowed in hockey but a player is always handed a penalty for throwing punches.

Some social and economic issues affect hockey’s expansion and reach. Hockey is the most expensive sport for children to play and not everyone has equal access to ice. The NHL is not as diverse as other major sport leagues; majority of the NHL is white and player diversity numbers are low. It’s not a good look for the sport when several players are alleged to be involved in a horrific sexual assault that was financially covered up by the largest organization for hockey in Canada. These negative things are part of the unfortunate reality that exists within hockey culture but they also cannot fully stop hockey from growing. In order for hockey to continue to grow and become more inclusive, these issues have to be acknowledged. Some players have taken the time to address these issues (Ex. I did an interview with 2 former professional hockey players (Brock McGillis and Kurtis Gabriel) to discuss hockey culture) but there’s still more work to be done in regards to it (see the New York Rangers Pride Night controversy).

Some suggestions to grow the game locally are incorporating ball hockey into Physical Education curriculum in schools and to also create ball hockey clinics for the community to become more exposed to the game. I think that these suggestions could be helpful and could possibly create an interest in playing the game. For those who are interested in watching the game, if you can, I recommend going to a Rhinos game; it’s so worth it to watch a game in person. If you’re a stay-at-home person, I recommend watching an NHL game on TV or streaming via ESPN+.

 For the future, I hope that there’s a continued increase in the game and that hockey continues to take steps forward in growing, especially in non-traditional areas and amongst marginalized people. What if we have the next Auston Matthews or Sarah Nurse in the Borderland and we just don’t know it because they haven’t picked up a hockey stick yet?

Kirsten Staple is an Americas High School graduate, a University of Texas at San Antonio graduate and an avid NHL fan.