Against long odds and even longer distances, a group of Miami-Dade teens competes for a shot at hockey glory

The other three players invited to attend the Jamboree — Victor Cobian, Ronald "Rocket" Kokas, and Devin Maroney — are all converts from roller hockey and did not even get on the ice until age nine or ten, practically elderly in ambitious hockey circles.

Victor Cobian looks like a younger Ryan Phillippe, has appeared as a model in Teen Vogue, sometimes wears diamond earrings, and wants to become a fireman. Already an emergency medical technician, the nineteen-year-old attends Miami Dade College and has been accepted to its fire academy. He met Rocket Kokas on the roller hockey rink when Rocket was seven, and the two have been friends since. Rocket is impish, talkative, and seventeen, a junior at Palmetto Senior High who has a cheerleading squad of small cousins sitting in the bleachers at every game with his number painted on their faces. True to his nickname, Rocket is fast on the ice, and he's one of the Toros' top scorers.

Both Rocket and Victor are tan and smallish in stature, and prone to making jokes. On the bus to the game in Fort Myers, the two sit at the front of the bus, making fun of teammate Mike Hauch (pronounced hock). "Does anybody know if Mike Hauch is coming?" one would yell out, and the other would reply, "Mike Hauch always comes late," or "All I know is Mike Hauch is going to score tonight" to endless amusement.

Jacqueline Carini
Jacqueline Carini

The fourth player selected to travel to Minnesota is Devin Maroney, also a junior at Palmetto Senior High. Maroney, quiet to the point of seeming almost bashful, is a forward with longish hair who wears a hemp necklace. On the whole, he is well mannered, in stark contrast to most players in his chosen sport.

The four teammates leave for Minnesota from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport early the day before the showcase. They are buoyed by an 8-0 rout of the Florida Eels the night before, only three weeks after their frustrating loss. Because Rocket and Devin are still in high school, the trip for them is a little more relaxed than for Richie and Victor, who are nearing the under-twenty age limit for junior hockey. For them the showcase might be one of their last chances to be scouted for a college team, which both hope for desperately. Although Victor has his fireman ambitions, and Richie a job working for his dad, they have made sacrifices for hockey and want to see them pay off.

For Victor the trip is also something of a vindication. When he was fifteen, he attended a summer training camp at the World Hockey Centre in Toronto. At the end of the summer, he was recruited to play for a Junior Hockey team in the Ontario Hockey League — the Valhalla of the sport. He would have been one of the only Americans on the team, which boasted players from Sweden, Switzerland, and Russia. But Victor is a Florida boy, and the boredom of small-town Ontario was too much for him.

"It was fun for the first two months, but it was in the middle of nowhere," he remembers. "All we did was play hockey every day. We never went out, we never went to the movies; we just played hockey — like robots."

So he returned home, knowing full well what it meant for his hockey career. Now the Toros have given him another shot at making a college team — maybe not a club as good as one he would've joined post-Ontario, but at least his adolescence consisted of more than just hockey games.

The players arrive in Minnesota to a minor crisis: Their sticks somehow got lost along the way. The Toros are told their sticks will be delivered to them later in the day, and men with clipboards from USA Hockey load the players onto a van heading toward the showcase site in a nearby suburb.

That Richie's father was a hockey player isn't the young man's only advantage. As the group steps out into the wintry air, it becomes evident: He is the only one of the four who owns a winter coat.

The Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota, is named, appropriately enough, for a local frozen-food company. But Super Rink is something of a misnomer, because it actually comprises eight rinks, two clustered groups of four. Blaine (which locals joke is both bland and plain) is a suburb 30 miles due north of Minneapolis; the town's biggest feature is the National Sports Center, "the world's largest amateur sports and meeting facility." In addition to the Super Rink, the NSC has a velodrome, indoor and outdoor tracks, and a golf course built specifically for youth golfers. It also holds a Guinness World Record for being the world's largest soccer complex. In mid-November, however, when the temperature hovers in the mid-thirties during the day and colder at night, the surrounding prairie of soccer fields is brown and dead, fringed with leafless trees and a few barren rows of identical housing developments. The only parking lot with any cars in it is outside the Super Rink, where at 9:00 a.m. November 13 the SEJHL All-Stars kicked off the Junior Jamboree against the Continental Hockey Association (CHA) Select.

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