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

This, it turns out, is an understatement. The Schwan Super Rink is now packed for the USHL showcase. At least 80 scouts have come to watch the games, including representatives from every NHL team. In the central lobby, whose windows overlook the four ice rinks, the tables are packed. One grizzled group of men in hunting caps and Green Bay Packers hats are members of some sort of fraternal order called the Buffalo Club. Their anoraks, embroidered with a large buffalo on the back, read, "A Breed Apart: Where cowards won't go and the weak die along the way."

The Miami players seem awestruck. "We saw a scout for the New York Rangers in the bathroom," says Rocket.

"And one for the Blackhawks," says another player.

The Toros gather between periods in their Kendall Ice Arena locker room, which is under construction. Junior Hockey is still new to Miami
Jacqueline Carini
The Toros gather between periods in their Kendall Ice Arena locker room, which is under construction. Junior Hockey is still new to Miami
Toros coach Joe Timpone has big dreams for Miami hockey
Jacqueline Carini
Toros coach Joe Timpone has big dreams for Miami hockey

Watching the game, they are quiet. It's difficult to believe that the players on the ice are even the same age as the Miami guys. The differences are clear: fewer goals, faster pace, the checking more efficiently incapacitating. The USHL game is clean — the players in constant motion around the puck, always alert for opportunity.

The Toros watch quietly, deciding to leave after the second period to visit the Mall of America. "I'm freezing," says Rocket, shivering in a thin white sweater, as they stand up to go.

The SEJHL wins its game against the CHA All-Stars the next day, and the Toros leave the ice rink immediately afterward to catch a 3:00 p.m. flight back to Fort Lauderdale. No more scouts approach them, but it doesn't matter. One chance to play college hockey is all they want.

The Junior Jamboree will continue for the rest of the day. Windows surrounding the atrium reveal skaters slamming each other against the boards and passing to their teammates. In a small drama framed by one window, a player in a green jersey suddenly clocks another in the face with his stick. As the injured player skates off, a trail of blood marks his path off the ice. Play resumes, the teams unceremoniously skating over the frozen, bright red blood.

Joe Timpone was unable to abandon his hockey program duties at Kendall Ice Arena to attend the showcase in Minnesota. Although pleased with the results, he had some misgivings about the goals of the SEJHL team coach, who did not give the Miami players much ice time. "They got a lot out of it," Timpone says. "They proved to themselves that their level of play is as good as anybody else out there, even though they didn't have impacts in the game itself because the coach didn't give them the opportunity to show what they can do." But he points out that the Miami players were the only ones on the team to have been approached by a college, something he is more proud of anyway. "Junior Hockey isn't about winning or losing," he says. "It's about moving kids on to college."

Richie Smith might attend Robert Morris for the scholarship. Victor Cobian, however, has another year of Junior Hockey eligibility ahead of him, and Timpone thinks that with dedication, the young man could potentially make the cut for a Level A Junior Team. The coach has already arranged such a tryout for Rocket Kokas, whom Timpone believes might have the potential to one day play NCAA Division 3 — or even Division 1. What's more, the SEJHL will see an upgrade next year, from Tier II Level C to Level B. "That's the same level as the Minnesota Junior Hockey League!" Timpone says giddily. For him, beating the cold states at their own sport is only a question of dedication.

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