Miranda Lemus had never played inline hockey before she got to Boston University. In fact, when she arrived at Boston’s annual club fair, Lemus looked for a way to stay on the ice. Then she discovered the school’s roller hockey team was looking for players.
“I wanted to get as much ice time as possible,” said Lemus of attending the fair. “[The club roller hockey team] wanted anyone to play because they seemed desperate for players at the time, so I joined. It was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
Her path as an ice hockey player who happened upon inline hockey is far from unique. Inline hockey, otherwise known as roller hockey, has struggled to grow as a whole, but in particular among women.
When she joined Boston University’s (BU) club team last season, Lemus, 19, who also plays in women’s tournaments across the country, was the only woman in the entire East Coast Roller Hockey Association (ECHRA) division. Now, she says there are roughly 10 women in the division.
While that seems like good growth in a year, there’s a slight catch: to Lemus’ knowledge, all of those women, including herself, were current or former ice hockey players looking to stay in shape. Lemus currently plays for the Boston University women’s club ice hockey team and got her start with the Oakville Hornets in Ontario before transitioning to junior hockey with the Burlington Barracudas.
Lemus said she sees this trend nationwide. Very few women start playing inline hockey without previous ice hockey experience. As such, she believes women’s ice hockey and inline hockey are inextricably intertwined.
Many ice hockey players do not respect inline hockey and refuse to try it, much less promote it. When asked, Lemus believed that the lack of checking and the general absence of physically aggressive play was a big part of it.
“There’s a big stigma around it…ice hockey players don’t want to play roller hockey,” said Lemus. “That’s [the lack of checking and general aggressive on-ice play] a really big part of it. That’s one of the main reasons a lot of people don’t want to play it and why it gets a lot of disrespect.”
However, what many people don’t realize are the benefits of choosing rollerblades over (or along with) ice skates.
It is no secret that ice hockey is expensive. According to a 2019 Aspen Institute survey of over 1,000 youth sports parents, families spend $2,583 a year on average for their kid to play hockey, making it the most expensive youth sport.
Inline hockey, however, is significantly cheaper. For one, inline hockey requires less gear than ice hockey, which is often cheaper and more durable.
Renting an inline rink also costs much less than a sheet of ice. A survey of 10 inline rinks from across the country found that on average, it costs $150 for a 90-minute rental, while a similar survey of ice rinks found that an hour of ice averages around $200-$400 depending on location and season. This lowers overall team costs for inline hockey and makes the sport significantly more accessible.
Lemus also believes inline hockey is safer because there is no legal checking and the players wear less gear. This makes them think twice before hitting anyone because they will also hurt themselves.
Playing inline hockey can also help players on the ice. According to Lemus, inline hockey is a more strategic game, which helps players learn to mentally slow down play. Meanwhile, ice hockey is a more energetic and faster game, which can conversely help on the inline rink.
To Lemus’ knowledge, there are no opportunities for girls to play organized inline hockey before the age of 13, so there is no youth development. If girls want to play, they have to play with boys, which causes many of them to quit.
The result is a portion of women not even considering inline hockey until college, and they usually do so because, like Lemus, they want more skating time.
Due to this natural connection, Lemus believes that it would be difficult to dissociate inline hockey from ice hockey. Rather, she thinks the two sports should embrace each other.
“The hardest part about growing roller hockey among women is that women’s [ice] hockey is already so small,” said Lemus. “Trying to break that group into roller and ice hockey would be hard, but if ice hockey learned to embrace roller, I think it’d be a huge growth opportunity for both sports.”
Irvine, California is one of the big hubs for inline hockey in the United States. There, it is almost equal to ice hockey in terms of respect and popularity. In Irvine, Lemus does not think it is a coincidence that the Team USA women’s inline hockey puts on “try rollerblading for free” events just like USA Hockey does “try [ice] hockey for free” events.
“Women from the Team USA inline team will teach these little girls how to rollerblade and some of them how to play hockey,” said Lemus. “A lot of girls go and the pictures that come out are adorable.”
As in the early years of growing women’s ice hockey in America, representation and providing barrier-free spaces to enter inline hockey for young girls is crucial to building participation levels.
When you say hockey, the default is often ice hockey. Growing and promoting inline, even as a way for ice hockey players to stay in shape during the offseason, could eventually grow both games.
“The main reason a lot of players try roller hockey is to stay in shape during the offseason,” said Lemus. “They come back when they find it not only worked but improved their abilities. So, if coaches pushed it more, it would not only grow our game but make theirs better. It’s a win for all types of women’s hockey.”