In Broomall, hockey of another sort
By Ron Reid
Inquirer Staff Writer
Although the Eagles failed yet again to reach the Super Bowl and St. Joseph's did not quite make it to the Final Four, a local team will compete this season for a national championship.
The defending champion Marple Gladiators, based in Broomall, Delaware County, will meet the Hartford Thunder at 6 p.m. tomorrow and 5 p.m. Sunday in the championship series of Major League Roller Hockey.
The games will be played at the Marple Sports Arena in Broomall.
"We're really excited," said Mike Jacobs, a star for the Gladiators. "It's our home rink, and we think all our fans will be there. It's going to be a great series."
An offshoot of the game played by the NHL's Flyers, roller hockey became popular in the 1990s, when quality in-line skates appeared on the market.
Beyond featuring wheels instead of blades, roller hockey is different in other ways from the NHL game in that four players and a goalie form a team for the full-contact action, and the puck has a nibbed surface that enables it to travel easily across a floor.
Other innovations include the absence of the blue lines, four 12-minute quarters, and players who earn money through sponsors, rather than being paid by their teams, over the course of a six-month season.
It all makes for a wide-open, high-scoring game.
What the league doesn't have are huge crowds watching its games in arenas that can seat 20,000 fans, or frequent coverage by the mainstream media.
On average, a roller hockey game draws about 500 fans, a capacity crowd in most of the rinks in which the league's games are played.
The teams operate on a budget of $30,000 to $40,000 per season, and plans are in the works for expansion to Chicago next season.
The current season also would seem to bode well for the future of the league.
"This year, we started with nine [teams], and we ended with nine," commissioner Steve Seeger said. "We had one weekend where we rescheduled some games because of the massive East Coast snowstorm. But other than that, we kept 100 percent true to our schedule."
In addition to the Gladiators and Thunder, the league featured the Philadelphia Sting, Pottstown Firebirds, Garden State Ottakringer, Boston Storm, New Jersey Bullets, Steel City (Pittsburgh) Snipers, and Somerset (N.J.) Wolves.
"We really expect to grow from here," Seeger said. "We are going to be moving into the Midwest next season. We have some interest from the South as well, from Florida and North Carolina. We also have four or five teams out in California, Colorado and Arizona that participated last year and are ready to get back into it."
Seeger expects 18 teams to be playing in the league next season.
By virtue of their league-leading 18-0 record, the Gladiators, who eliminated the Sting in the first round of the playoffs, were made the top seed in the postseason and got the home-floor advantage in the series with 14-5 Hartford.
Should the teams split the two games, they will play a winner-take-all, 12-minute "mini-game" starting shortly after Sunday's game.
Marple is hoping to become the first repeat champion in league history as well as the only team ever to go through the season undefeated. The Gladiators are led by C.J. Yoder, a 28-year-old defenseman who scored 31 goals, and Jacobs, who is also 28.
Hartford is a veteran team led by 21-year-old, 160-pound Johnny Pinheiro, who tied for the league lead with 38 goals.