And Speaking of Hockey...

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In any other town, starting up a professional inline hockey team would have taken at least two years. St Louis, however, turns out to be an inline hockey hub. "It's random," says David Garland, a Washington University grad who has helped to organize the league. "Every state has it, but here there's a real history of success."

There's a strong high school program and a prestigious college team at Lindenwood University that has won the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association Division One title four years in a row. In fact, in those four years the Lindenwood squad has only lost one game, to Meramec Community College. "A huge upset," says Garland. (Loyal RFT readers already know Lindenwood's reputation as an obscure-sport juggernaut.)

St. Louis once was home to a professional inline hockey team -- the Vipers, who played back in the 1990s. But they were trying to fill 20,000-seat arenas, and even inline-hockey hubs have their limits. The current league, the Gateway Professional Inline Hockey Association, has five teams and more modest ambitions. Games are played at privately owned rinks that seat about 500; tickets are $5 and kids under eight get in free. (For a schedule, visit the league's MySpace page.

Garland says games have been drawing crowds of 400 or so. "It's hard to explain to other people how cool it is," adds Garland, who's been hooked since he was thirteen. "Ice hockey players love it because it takes skilled players and showcases them, as opposed to in ice hockey, where there are these big goons who just go around and hit people."

Inline hockey is less violent than ice hockey (no full checking is permitted) and halftime shows have included paper airplane contests.

"At the last game, there were 50 kids wanting to get things autographed," reports Garland, who plays for the Southside Snipers. "It was a little ego thing."

-Molly Langmuir

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