Winter athletes find ways to practice despite weather

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Luke Chval

[heading]No weather? No problem. [/heading] The National Hockey League might as well be an Australian cricket league as far as Missouri could tell.
Missouri got its first professional hockey team in 1968, when the St. Louis Blues joined the NHL. Although, there has been a hockey team in Missouri for some time now, the state already had teams in the much more popular National Football League and Major League Baseball.
Also, Missouri’s climate did not allow for dependable yearly pond hockey rinks, which is how the interest in hockey started in the northern United States. Similar predicaments in other southern and middle states have been a main reason in the restriction of the NHL interest to the northern states.
With the ability to make hockey rinks in any type of climate now, the interest level of winter sports in these states should be higher. However, out of the 30 teams in the NHL, the Blues rank 28th in revenue and there are no NCAA-sanctioned college hockey teams in Missouri. Disinterest like this makes being a winter sports athlete in Columbia one of the most difficult types of athlete to be.
Freshman Mick Deaver is one of the rare Missouri hockey athletes, who has made many sacrifices to maintain his pursuit of the sport. Hockey players have limited options in Columbia, with the nearest rink in Jefferson City, Mo. and most competitive teams in St. Louis. Deaver has practiced in the rinks in both cities.
“Playing hockey is difficult in Missouri, especially here in Columbia. People just don’t notice hockey as much in Missouri as well as they do in Minnesota or Maine” Deaver said. “Just any of those places, they think they’re the best hockey players in the world and that not really anybody from St. Louis and Missouri can be.”
Deaver was a defenseman on a national championship team in 2013. His team, the Affton Americans, won the U14 Tier II 2A National Championship in Charlotte, N.C., outscoring their opponents combined 49-4 in five games. The team defeated the Alaska All-Stars in the final game 7-0 to win the title.
“The national championship was amazing, and that was a great experience, but I’d say it’s tied for first with the Missouri qualifier for that tournament,” Deaver said. “We played the St. Peters Selects in that game, and we had lost to them the last couple of times but we ended up beating them and got to go to the tournament in North Carolina.”
The type of travel Deaver experienced during the national championship tournament is not unusual; Deaver has traveled all over the country for his athletic competitions because of the lack of competition in Missouri and the scattered hockey competition across the United States.
“I’ve been to Michigan, North Carolina, here in Missouri,” Deaver said. “Illinois, Tennessee, Minnesota, North Dakota, a lot of northern schools, eastern schools, where there are good hockey programs.”
Biology teacher April Sulze was raised in Colorado and did not play hockey, but she participated in a number of other winter sports that Missouri’s location restricts. Just as with hockey, the lack of facilities for these sports make them rare in Missouri.
“I mainly did snowboarding,” Sulze said. “I did cross country skiing when I was out there, hiked a lot, snowshoed, but mostly just snowboarding. I did the Snow Days competition, which is local, but people come from all over the United States, and it is in Vail, Colorado.”
Sulze started winter sports at an early age in Colorado, which is a pipeline for the U.S. 2014 Olympic team. Out of the 230 athletes participating in the Sochi games, 19 are from Colorado, which is only beaten by California with 20 athletes.
“When I was a kid, there was nothing else to do except spend all of our time on a mountain,” Sulze said, “and I was skiing all the time, but I tore up my knees playing soccer, and they told me to consider snowboarding.”
Junior Dirk Adams, who played on the same team as Deaver a year earlier, also won a national championship in 2012, and then stopped playing hockey because of the difficulties of living in Missouri that caused all of the extra time spent on the sport. Adams now plays lacrosse, which is similar to hockey, and still travels to St. Louis, Mo. often, but now for lacrosse practice.
“Well, it’s not that I stopped liking hockey. I still love it,” Adams said. “But I just got really burnt out from all of the travel, and I felt that I just wanted to take a break.”
Sulze can’t participate in the winter sports like she used too, now that she lives in Missouri, but still attempts to make trips out to her home state to snowboard.
“And now that I’m home, I go out once or twice a year,” Sulze said. “So living in Missouri has impacted my ability to compete and the amount that I snowboard but my family is still out there so when I go out now, I don’t just play in the snow I actually visit them.”
by Luke Chval 
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