PUTTING THE LOVE BACK INTO HOCKEY

Charlie Schroeder of Weekend America takes a look at a Kings Hockey Clinic

Sunday, 06.01.2008 / 2:55 PM / Local Hockey
By Charlie Schroeder | Weekend America

When Benjamin Salisbury was a kid, the closest he got to playing hockey was when he landed a role in the Disney movie "D3: The Mighty Ducks." But instead of being cast as a player, he was relegated to the sidelines where he played the radio announcer, Josh.

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It wasn't that Benjamin didn't want to play hockey when he was a kid. After all, he knew how to skate. It's just that his mom wouldn't let him.

"She didn't even want us to go to North Star games," he says. "She was convinced that somehow a fight would break out and we'd be asked to go down to the ice and participate. I don't know how she thought we'd get hurt."

Benjamin grew up in Minnesota, where kids learn how to play hockey while they're still in their diapers. So he was kind of an anomaly. Still, his mom wasn't about to let her son suffer the same fate as others.

"I think my mom's real hatred for the game was that she was convinced that if we ever played hockey we would lose our teeth -- and as she painstakingly reminds me, she spent $6,000 on my braces."

Benjamin eventually moved 2,000 miles away from his mom, to Los Angeles. That's where he fell in love with the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and with Kelly, the woman who's now his wife. Earlier this year while at a Kings game, Benjamin heard about a beginner's workshop the team was holding. They offered five classes, equipment and tickets to games -- but the best thing of all, you didn't need any experience. He thought (unlike his mom): What a great thing to share with a person you love.

"I was really nervous, because I wanted to do it with Kelly so we had something to do together." But there was just one problem: She'd never skated before.

At their first class Benjamin finally got to hold a hockey stick and Kelly got to skate. Kind of. "I fell a lot in the first lesson," she says.

Afterwards, the couple went to a rink near their house so Benjamin could teach Kelly how to skate.

"It was the first real test of our relationship," Salisbury says -- after all, you never really know someone until you try to teach them something dangerous. "There were definitely a couple times when I was like 'Why aren't you just skating?' and she'd say 'I am, leave me alone!'"

And then there's locker room protocol. Even though women make up about 40 percent of the class, Kelly's the only one who suits up with the guys, something she's done since the first night when she mistakenly followed Benjamin into the men's locker room.

"We honestly didn't know," Benjamin says. "She dressed and we got out to the ice and I was like 'I can't believe there's no other women in this.' I thought there'd at least be a few more women in this. And then we look out and like, 10 women. And I was like, 'Oh, there's probably a separate dressing room.'"

All the sweaty half-naked men don't phase Kelly or make Benjamin jealous. Besides, they have other things to worry about, like all the stuff they have to wear: pads, gloves, shin guards and a big helmet. All told, it takes them about half an hour to suit up. And by the time they're dressed it's hard to tell the two apart. They look like they're heading into battle. Because they wear gloves, they can't hold hands, they can't kiss because there's a face guard on their helmets.

"The first day, it was like you were literally just a knight at Medieval Times," Benjamin says. "You're literally just weighed down."

For the first 20 minutes or so, their class does some drills. They skate backwards, forwards and handle the puck. The last 40 minutes is a scrimmage. The pace is slow, the play is sloppy -- it's what you'd expect from a bunch of beginners. And it's generally harmless. At their level, the biggest danger often comes from themselves. Last week when Kelly fell, she hurt her tail bone because she didn't put her padding on correctly.

"When Kelly fell last game, literally it's what I imagined watching one of your children get hurt," Benjamin says. "Like I had every impulse to go over to her. And you're trying to maintain some sort of like butch hockey-like image, but it's kind of hard when you're down on one knee going 'You all right, baby, you all right?'"

Unlike the pros, checking -- the practice of slamming into an opponent -- isn't technically allowed in this workshop. That is, unless you consider checking losing control and plowing into someone, which is what I saw the night I was there.

And with rock-hard hockey pucks flying all over the place, there's always the chance of getting hurt as Kelly tells me after class.

"This one guy, I don't know what he was thinking," Kelly says. "But he went for the puck -- and I was going for it at the same time -- he did this slapshot right towards me and I flinched thinking it was going to hit me in the face. Benjamin offered to make things happen if it did actually hit me."

Of course, as Benjamin's skills improve, his attitude might change.

"I don't know, I've got to be honest with you, today she was skating out in front of me and I was like 'It might be kind of fun to just roll over her right now.' But I didn't. It's hard to tell -- would my competitive nature kick in, or would my desire to make sure she's safe kick in?"

Then again, Kelly's attitude might change as well. "If I was more confident on skates and knew I could stand up if I knocked into him, I'd totally check him. I mean, no I wouldn't, I love you. It'd be fun. I wouldn't do it violently -- it'd be very playful."

I just hope she doesn't knock his teeth out.