The Northwest Arkansas Ice Hogs are the only high school hockey team in our entire state. Some of these kids travel up to four hours just to play the sport that they love.
They play at the Jones Center in Springdale. If you love hockey, you don’t have a choice. It’s either play here, or play nowhere.
“When you come to Arkansas hockey’s not really a focal point,” said Bentonville player Dillon Smith. “It’s the only place you can play and it’s a fun time.”
In fact, the closest rink to Northwest Arkansas is in Springfield, Missouri. This Ice Hogs team has kids coming all the way from Little Rock.
“They used to have a team in Little Rock but then it got shut down, so now I come up here and play,” said Little Rock player Adam Korenblat. “I used to play in Memphis but this is closer.”
For some of these kids it’s serious dedication to travel so far.
“I fly to Kansas City a lot,” said Korenblat. “I don’t drive because it’s like an eight hour drive.”
The conference they play in is called the Mid-American Hockey League with teams from Missouri and Kansas. The Ice Hogs actually won the championship last year. This year they have even more experience. Seven of their 14 players are seniors.
“A lot of the kids have been playing with each other on this team for 10 or 11 years,” said Smith. “They know each other really well. They stay at each other’s house when they come up here. They spend a lot of time in the hotel together. So it’s not really hard to get to know each other.”
A lot of them start as little kids, the Junior Ice Hogs. That’s how they build the team chemistry. This year it’s certainly working. The varsity team has 13 wins, 3 losses and 2 ties.
Hockey may not be the most popular sport in Arkansas, but in these guy’s minds, it’s the only one.