OLDSMAR — Hockey can be a complicated game. The casual fan doesn’t understand many of the rules and those who do understand them usually are wondering why they are or are not called.
James Boyette is the hockey director at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy. He deals with kids who don’t necessarily know the rules and really don’t need to know. He works with kids who like to skate and shoot the puck.
He doesn’t teach the young kids about things like offsides and icing penalties. He teaches something that is much more important: He teaches fun.
Ice hockey is an expensive sport that can cost about $3,000 a year when you add up the equipment, uniforms, travel and gas. In hockey, kids starting at age 4 are invested into the sport. It becomes a passion for a lot of kids and for adults as well.
Despite pressure that comes from many hockey parents, Boyette said he first wants to make sure the kids at TBSA are having fun.
“We don’t teach the rules when they are starting out,” Boyette said. “We teach them to have fun and the real skills it takes to play hockey. The kids’ parents are paying a lot of money. So we want to make sure the kids are getting fun and skills before we get too technical.”
Boyette is a rare Tampa native who grew up playing hockey. He started playing roller hockey and turned to the ice and said he has practically grown up at the TBSA in Oldsmar. He still plays in adult leagues, but he’s taken a shine to teaching kids. A native Floridian has never played in the National Hockey League, Boyette said, but the day might not be too far away.
The problem with kids in Florida, Boyette said, is simply that Florida has a reputation as the Sunshine State, not a place that is going to breed great hockey players.
He said he hopes that image changes. “We have great hockey players in Florida who just never get a chance,” Boyette said. “Scouts don’t want to come down here to see one special player when there are so many players they can see at one time up north.”
Boyette starts his kids at square one. The rules don’t matter. He teaches stick handling, skating and shooting. That’s what hockey comes down to in the end. The rules can come later.
“The majority of the time, I just want them to be skating,” Boyette said. “We find out what they like to do and we go with it from there.”
Some kids, Boyette said, want to be a goalie because of the cool equipment they get to wear. Others simply want to be scorers. It’s a passion, Boyette said, that stays with the kids until they become adults, until they can’t skate anymore.
“This is one of those sports that takes a lot of dedication and a lot of money,” Boyette said. “This isn’t Little League baseball where you stand in right field and watch the grass grow, so you have to have a passion for it. A lot of kids in baseball or soccer are just doing it because their parents want them to. That’s not how it is in hockey. There’s an investment and the kids have to love it and the kids out here all want to be here. No one is being forced.”
After 15 years at the TBSA, Boyette has seen plenty of kids grow from learning how to skate to being top-notch hockey players. The ones who stay tend to join adult leagues. The TBSA stays open with games from sunup until midnight, and Boyette is on the ice at all times. He loves the game and is trying to spread the love.
“This is my game,” Boyette said. “I’ve been at the TBSA since I was 15. I am a lifer here.”