Backyard-Hockey Profiles is a series that looks to shed light on the people who embody the true spirit of the game and the pure joy that comes from sharing it with others. If you would like to nominate someone to be profiled, please contact me.
It’s springtime in much of the United States, and with temperatures expected to reach the low 80’s this weekend, it’s easy to let the mind drift to those symbolic events that mark the passing of another winter. Baseball’s opening day is this weekend, and is something of a major holiday in cities like Boston. Little League tryouts take place in another week or two, where future big-leaguers will muddy their cleats for the first time. And grills will begin to crack open, the smell of steak and burgers filling neighborhoods from Chicago to Charlotte.
But there is a bit of a push in the greater-Washington DC area to hold on to those last strands of winter. That’s beacuse as I type this, DC is enveloped in a hockey pandemonium that has gained steam in recent years, but has reached DEFCON 1 levels this spring. With the hometown Caps ripping off a streak of 14 straight wins in January and February, helping contribute to a league-best win-loss total, the region is experiencing a hockey renaissance that may well end in a Stanley Cup parade come June.
For the hockey-loving populace of the greater Beltway area, this is equal parts new and welcome. Toiling in mediocrity for the better part of their first four decades, the Capitals are DC’s hottest sports team right now. Thousands of children are being turned on to a sport that historically took a backseat to basketball or lacrosse. Ted Leonsis, the likeable and approachable majority owner of the Caps, has as much to do with the organization’s success as anyone. The same can be said for the ultra-talented phenomenon known as Alexander the Gr8, who captains the squad and shares the spotlight with Sidney Crosby as one of the game’s brightest young stars. For many people in DC, these hockey-centric times represent a first-ever opportunity to uncover a passion for the world’s greatest sport. But beyond the Verizon Center stands, past the ‘Rock The Red‘ rallies, there are other DC-area personalities helping introduce the game to people who might not otherwise happen upon it.
Folks like Bob DeGemmis.
DeGemmis owns and operates Red Line Hockey, a hockey training company that has two distinct segments. RLH – Goaltending works with a number of teams, clubs, and individual goalies, primarily in the DC/MD/VA area, helping ice hockey goalies learn the position and reach their full potential. On the other side of RLH is their Street & Inline component, which is the side of the business that will be hosting the National Inline Hockey Open on May 1, 2010. The event, a one-day adult inline outdoor hockey tournament, will be held at the Kensington (MD) Saul Rd Outdoor Rink.
“I started the Red Line Hockey Goaltending Business back in 2006, but the grassroots off-ice programs started because I wanted to do more for those starting out, as well reinvigorate those who have already played their competitive hockey. At the beginning end, way too many kids never start hockey because of lack of access or feel they won’t be competitive for a number of reasons. On the other end of the age spectrum, way too many people hang up the skates after high school or college. They both miss the point,” says DeGemmis.
To help cultivate that early love for the game, DeGemmis runs a series of grassroots programs for the region’s youth. There are spring and fall youth street hockey leagues, as well as an inline league, most of which run at the Kensington rink. The youth leagues target first through fifth graders, teaching them the basics, like stickhandling and shooting.
DeGemmis’ own introduction to the game might be one of the most unique this blogger has ever heard. A five-year-old living in Glastonbury, CT, young Bob answered the door of his family’s home only to find one of the greatest hockey players of all time standing at his doorstep. Gordie Howe, flanked by sons and Hartford Whaler teammates Mark and Marty, were there to present the elder DeGemmis with the winnings from a raffle he had won. They included a signed hockey stick, an instructional book, and six lessons at a local rink. The younger DeGemmis took the lessons and was instantly captivated by the game, but his parents’ schedules and the distance to the nearest rink were prohibitive factors to his playing organized hockey. So Bob made the best of it, honing his puck skills in the driveways, parking lots, and once the northeast weather turned cold enough, the ponds.
“From ages 6 – 18, I easily played 8 hours of outdoor hockey (inline, street, pond) for every hour in a rink,” says DeGemmis. “My parents weren’t able to haul me around to play organized hockey until 6th grade. However, I had probably played 20 hours of street/inline/pond hockey a week for 6 years. It made all the difference.” Indeed it did. After a stellar high school career at East Catholic High in Manchester, CT, he played three years for Villanova University.
These days he spends his working hours as a consultant for the American Civics Center, but his passion lies in training tomorrow’s hockey stars.
“If you can play and it’s fun, then start playing or keep playing! In the end, organized hockey, no organized hockey, it doesn’t really matter. We all start and finish in the same place. You just need to keep playing.”
If you would like more information on Bob DeGemmis’ goaltending instruction, his outdoor events, or to register for the 2010 National Inline Hockey Open, visit his website at www.redlinehockeyusa.com.
A huge thanks to Bob DeGemmis, Red Line Hockey, and the Kensington Voice for providing the material for this story.