Wesley Chapel hosts roller hockey tournament

- When the temperatures rise and the ice hockey offseason begins, some players will turn their set of blades in for wheels.

Roller hockey players will tell you, hockey is hockey.

"I play ice in the winter because that's when it's best for it," said 14-year-old roller hockey player, Landon Kooker. "Then I switch over to roller to keep playing and stay on track with my game." 

But sometimes roller hockey gets a bad reputation. 

"Oftentimes, they think we're playing hockey in a parking lot," said the owner of the TORHS 2HOT4ICE, Joe Bertaccini.

That couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, the two can coexist, just like we saw last week at Florida Hospital Center Ice. The ice was melted and roller rinks were installed so the TORHS 2HOT4ICE national tournament could be played. 

2,000 athletes from countries all over the world checked themselves into the Bay Area to take part.

"It's cool to see another country of a roller hockey team," said Kooker. "They're helping to grow the sport as well." 

The boots and playing surface are the obvious differences between roller and ice hockey. The puck also has small pins in it that allow it to glide on the rink. 

While the playing style is similar, it's not all the same.

"It's 4-on-4 versus 5-on-5," said Bertaccini. "There's no icing. It's a lot more skill, I would say. Less hitting, less contact. It's a faster game." 

Another major difference: There's no checking in roller hockey. Those who play the roller version say the faster game helps build endurance for its winter counterpart.  

"There are a handful of guys in the NHL today that grew up as roller hockey kids," said Bertaccini. "In fact, Nathan Smith who is out of Florida locally here, played for a team growing up called the Scorpions." 

A few weeks ago, Smith was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets. 

"A perfect opportunity to say, 'Hey, roller hockey is good for your ice game,'" said Bertaccini.

In other words, playing both ice and roller hockey can provide a sort of assist to each other. 

There is also a National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association. Teams from USF and the University of Tampa compete in roller hockey, along with others across the state. Some colleges even offer scholarships, too.

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