Dozens gathered at the McAllen Sports Park Hockey Pavilion on Saturday afternoon to play a little hockey.
Dubbed RGV Hockey Fest 2020, the event was organized by RGV Roller, a new organization aiming to promote hockey in the Valley.
Some participants wore rollerblades as they took shots at goals set at each end of the skating rink. Others without skates ran with hockey sticks in their hands. Many of these individuals wore their favorite hockey jerseys.
Sergio Ibarra, 22, of Edinburg, wore a Boston Bruins jersey as he attempted a few shots.
“I have a love for hockey,” Ibarra said in between shots. “I love watching the game, but I’ve never actually held a stick and hit a puck. So it’s great seeing something like this being held in the Valley and being able to practice this sport that I watch.”
Ibarra credits his love for the game to his friend Nathaniel Mata, president of RGV Roller.
Mata has been a fan of hockey since he was 5 years old and living in California. He said that when he moved to the Valley, his love for hockey came with him.
“The Killer Bees ended up here like a year later, so hockey kind of followed me,” Mata said. “I wasn’t able to play ice hockey. I wasn’t able to do those leagues because it’s just pricey. Now that I’m an adult, I’m finally able to get my own gear. It makes me want to get other people in to it. There’s just so many barriers. We’re just trying to knock down as many barriers, open the doors and let people have another option.”
Saturday’s event started with a free-for-all of sorts. RGV Roller provided hockey sticks and pucks to participants so they could try for the goals. There was also a skills competition, which included a fastest skater competition, a shootout challenge, and a hardest-shot competition. The event also featured a scrimmage of sorts by those more familiar with the game of roller hockey.
“My main goal is to get hockey into more people’s visibility,” Mata said. “It’s an expensive sport, and the main goal is to make it less expensive and more affordable for our region. You can play baseball or basketball for a really low price, and I just really want the same thing going on with hockey. That’s kind of the goal that RGV Roller has.”
Erin Berlanga, 42, of McAllen, brought her two sons, Mateo, 7, and Diego, 5, so that they could learn more about hockey, a sport that they are building an interest in.
“My kids have been interested in hockey over the last couple of years,” Berlanga, who was a figure skating coach when she lived in Portland, Oregon, said. “I want my kids to love figure skating and hockey in general. I think it’s a great opportunity for them to get exercise as well as enjoy a sport that not everyone gets a chance to enjoy.”
Berlanga was also a volunteer coach for the Junior Killer Bees.
Mata said RGV Roller is still in the early stages of development, and that he hopes to obtain nonprofit status soon to help provide more hockey gear to participants.
“To see kids out here, to see families out here, this was the goal,” Mata said. “It’s just all about awareness today. Hopefully people will see what we’re doing, and the next time we host an event, or even when we have ‘learn to skate’ or ‘learn to play hockey’ classes, people can sign up.
“I’m really happy with the turnout. I’m happy to see the roller derby family that’s been here for years, roller hockey, ice hockey, and just people that are giving it a shot for the first time. It’s a family centered event, and that was the goal.”
People can find information about RGV Roller and their events on its Facebook page.