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THEY PUT A DIFFERENT SPIN ON SPORT : Roller Hockey Devotees Expanding Into Leagues, National Competition

Marco Thompson is the president of a multimillion-dollar computer design firm. Paul Chapey owns a marketing consulting company.

But every Sunday night they can be found at the Sweetwater Roller Rink, rubbing elbows and swinging sticks with the opposite end of the economic spectrum--7-Eleven clerks, beach bums and unemployed students.

The common ground?

A passion for the sport of roller hockey--hockey played on roller skates.

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“I live for roller hockey,” said Thompson, who says he often works up to 80 hours a week. “I can work and be successful at my job, but I have more fun playing roller hockey with these guys than anything I do.”

Thompson, Chapey and a small group of others began playing together in San Diego about eight years ago. That group has grown to 60, enough that Chapey decided to organize things.

At 45, Chapey is the oldest player in the six-team San Diego Roller Hockey League, which formed this year. He is also the league’s commissioner and the coach of the San Diego Hosers, an all-star team that will represent San Diego in the national championships July 9-13 in Mt. Clemons, Mich., a suburb of Detroit.

Chapey said he is putting in a bid for San Diego to be the host city for next year’s national tournament.

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“It would be a big boost to the sport locally if we could get it,” said Chapey, who grew up playing roller hockey in the streets of New York.

Calgary Flames forward Joe Mullen recently gave the sport a boost nationally through an article in Sports Illustrated. Mullen and his brother, Brian, who plays for the New York Rangers, grew up playing roller hockey in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Brooklyn, N.Y., where the style of play closely resembles the National Hockey League’s.

The article mentioned that riot police once arrived by helicopter at the Brooklyn roller rink where the Mullens played.

Chapey said the New York brand of play reminds him of the movie “Rollerball"--a science fiction thriller that took a masochistic look at the sport of roller derby.

In San Diego--and at the national tournament--a more wide-open, finesse-type game is played. Checking is prohibited, and five players (four skaters and a goalie) are used instead of six. There are also no blue lines or red lines, meaning there are no offsides calls.

One of the reasons for the no-checking rule is safety. Since the Sweetwater Rink has cinderblock boards, a hard check into them could mean the end of a season or a career.

It also requires defenseman to play the puck instead of the person.

But there still is a fair amount of incidental contact.

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“It’s just like basketball,’ Francis Weidinger, a member of the Hosers who has been playing roller hockey since grade school. “They say basketball’s a non-contact sport. We’re not like New York, but we have our share of pucks in the face and bumps and bruises. Non-contact makes a lot more sense. And you don’t have the bad rap that hockey has with all the fighting.”

Chapey said he believes the San Diego style lends itself to a more exciting brand of play.

“We play more of a laid-back game, but the guys love it,” Chapey said. “There’s no stoppage in play for line calls, and it’s a faster paced game.”

The pace has become even faster in the past couple years with the invention of “in-line skates,” with the wheels in a straight line so that the look like ice skates.

Chapey said the in-line skates are revolutionizing the sport and adding interest to it.

“A lot of people that skate down on Mission Beach began wearing in-line skates, and we’ve had a lot of those people join our league,” Chapey said. “They simulate ice skating pretty well.”

Chapey, who still wears the conventional-style skate, said there are advantages to both.

“The conventional skates are good for stopping and starting and they’re more stable,” he said. “The in lines are faster and better for quick acceleration.”

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Still, as Joe Mullen said in the March 27 magazine story, roller skating will never be exactly like ice skating.

“Roller skating takes a different style from ice skating. You don’t glide well. In fact, if you don’t keep your legs moving, you’ll fall on your face. You can do almost anything on roller skates that you can do on ice except one thing: On roller skates you can’t stop.”

But, Chapey said, with the new in-line skates, “you can’t stop on a dime, but you can stop on a quarter.”

The only player who isn’t required to wear skates in the San Diego league is the goalie. Chapey said many of the goalkeepers are former street hockey players with little or no skating experience.

“It is hard to find goalies in our league,” Chapey said. “Many of them are kind of flaky and don’t last too long.”

The other equipment difference between ice and roller hockey is a lighter puck--a hard cover with a plastic filler. The puck weighs three ounces rather than the six-ouncer used in ice hockey. It also does less damage than a regular puck to the Sweetwater Rink’s maple floor, which is covered with a plastic coating.

Internationally--where Chapey said the sport is more popular--the game is played with a field hockey stick and a ball.

In this country, roller hockey rules are governed by the United States Amateur Confederation. Chapey is a member of that five-man committee that controls roller sports in the United States.

New York is the only city that does adhere to USAC rules. It is also one of the few cities which does not participate in the national tournament.

The Hosers, named by Chapey after the insult used by the McKenzie brothers on the SCTV television show, finished fifth at the nationals in 1987 and fourth last year.

Weidinger said this year, the Hosers hope for much more.

“We’re going to try and win it all this year,” Weidinger said. “We’ve begun to take this thing seriously. Paul has us studying old films, and we’re working a lot more on game strategy and our passing skills. We’re now playing with more of a purpose.”

But Weidinger said the main purpose is still to have fun.

“Ever since we changed our name from the Black Hawks to the Hosers in 1983, it became more of a fun thing,” Weidinger said.

It became such a fun thing that Weidinger, a part-time film producer, is making a movie about the trials and tribulations of the Hosers. Weidinger said it will not resemble a Walt Disney production.

“It will mostly be about all the wild and crazy things we do,” he said.

Weidinger said you have to be a little off-center just to play roller hockey.

“In San Diego, you have to be rather nutso to play it,” he said. “People look at us and say, ‘Why are these people playing hockey on roller skates in San Diego when they could be doing other things?’ ”

But Weidinger, a former surfaholic, says there is nothing else he would rather do.

“Everything in my life,” he said, “revolves around what I can do to play roller hockey.”


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