When it comes to playing street hockey, Ryan Diaz is a hot commodity, with an emphasis on the word “hot.”
The 34-year old Huntersville resident plays goalie, and no matter what type of hockey is being played – street, deck, ice - goalies are hard to come by.
While street hockey’s offensive and defensive players, called runners, mostly dress in shorts and a T-shirt, Diaz straps on layers of equipment to protect himself from the hard plastic balls being fired his direction. On a hot summer day, the temperature is just as menacing as a runner’s whistling slap shot.
“They needed a goalie, so here I am,” said Diaz.
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Diaz plays with Charlotte Street Hockey, an informally organized group that has about 200 members that communicate through email and social media. Throughout the year, they play pick-up games at Huntersville’s Waymer Park and at the DeFeo Family Inline Roller Rink at the Morrison YMCA in Ballantyne.
Mooresville resident Lou Harvatin, 47, has kept the group organized since 2010. They play Wednesday evenings in Ballantyne and alternate Saturdays between Ballantyne and Huntersville, affectionately calling those meetings “Hockey Morning in Charlotte,” a twist on the popular National Hockey League television broadcasts known as “Hockey Night in Canada”.
There’s a nominal daily fee to pay for playing at DeFeo Family Inline Roller Rink, a neatly structured facility enclosed by boards and plexiglass with benches and an electronic scoreboard. Play is free at Waymer Park where the group uses a set of basketball courts to play a single game.
Either way, you don’t have to pay if you’re a goalie, a minor perk for sacrificing your body. On Saturdays, Charlotte Street Hockey gathers as early as possible to avoid the uncomfortable heat.
“It’s tough,” said Diaz, a native of Massachusetts. “Sometimes I go home and I’m sweaty for the rest of the day just because that core temperature goes up. But it doesn’t matter, I would do it anyway.”
Like Diaz, many Charlotte Street Hockey players grew up in hockey-happy northern states. They have moved to the Charlotte area at various times of their lives not knowing if they would be able to continue to play their favorite pastime.
Most players range in age from their teens through 50 years old. Diaz’s son, Lucas Smalley, is a precocious and confident 11-year old who runs with the adults. He’s even scored a couple times on his goal-tending father.
Brandon Brownlow, an original Charlotte Street Hockey member from Gastonia, describes play at Waymer this way:
“It’s competitive enough to where if you are competitive you can have fun. It’s not too competitive to where if you come out here you’re going to feel so out of place that you don’t want to come back. There’s old guys, young guys, out-of-shape guys. Anyone that wants to come out and get exercise can play.”
At 49 years old, Cornelius resident Shawn Perry is one of the group’s older players. He says he grew up playing pond hockey in upstate New York and even coached youth hockey.
To get his hockey fix, Perry plays organized and pick-up ice hockey at Pineville Ice House once or twice a week and street hockey with Charlotte Street Hockey.
“I do it for exercise,” said Perry. “I’m not the type to go to the gym but I’ll chase a puck around all day long.”
In addition to the pick-up games, Harvatin organizes in-house tournaments among Charlotte Street Hockey’s members a few times a year. Harvatin also pulls together some of Charlotte Street Hockey’s more-talented players – and those that have an interest and are available – to play in sanctioned tournaments around the southeast.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org