Steamboat Springs Eleven-year-old Will Hunter learned a valuable lesson Monday morning at Howelsen Hill.
He was racing full speed on his inline skates, hoping to reach a bouncing orange ball with his hockey stick before other players. But he lost his footing during a sharp turn and tumbled end over end on the hard asphalt surface of the parking lot outside of the Howelsen Hill Ice Arena.
The tumble explains why the players who showed up for the second session of Ted Hoffman's roller hockey camp on Monday morning were clad from head to toe in protective equipment. Well hidden beneath is helmet and pads, Hunter bounced back to his feet after the crash, happy just to be playing the game.
"I do it because it's a lot of fun. I always learn a lot at these camps," Hunter said, adding with a smile, "Today, I learned that you can't do hockey stops."
It was the first day of Hoffman's six-week Steamboat Roller Hockey Camp.
Although he is an experienced skater, Hunter was one of the newer faces in Peewee and Bantam division of the camp. He has played in Hoffman's camp in the past, but elected to travel outside of Routt County the past two years to keep playing on ice.
"It's less expensive than trying to travel all over the place to play hockey in the summer," Hunter said.
It's also a lot easier on his parents, who spent the last couple of years driving around the state in the summer so their son could pursue his love of hockey.
Fellow camper Vladan Chase has made a habit of coming to the camp since he first picked up the game at age 5. That was six years ago.
"I just love the game," Chase said. " I can't get enough of it."
Chase, who dreams of playing in the National Hockey League someday, said the camps have been a great way to keep his hockey skills sharp during the summer.
Chase admits that the pace of the games is a little slower on inline skates and the falls are a little less forgiving, but the basic principles remain the same.
"It's made me a better skater and a better stick handler," Chase said. "The ball we use in the summer tends to bounce around on the surface a little bit more than a puck on ice. It makes you focus more on your stick handling and that pays off in the winter."
Hoffman is offering two sessions this summer.
The first one is for Mites and Squirt players (age 10 and younger) and takes place at 8:30 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. An older session for Peewee and Bantam players (older than 10) begins at 9:30 a.m. the same days.
Hoffman said he has about 25 players out for the younger session and roughly 15 players in the older group.
Hoffman said there is still room in both sessions -- especially the older group -- this summer.
The Monday sessions are designated for learning skills, and Wednesdays are reserved for games.
"Of course I like the Wednesday sessions a little more," Chase said. "But I like Mondays, too. That's where you get a chance to become a better player."