Don Rogers instructs the Never Ever League during a chalk talk at the beginning of practice. Photo by Hunter Wilson/Kertis Creative.

Never Say Never

The growth of adult hockey in Louisville

Growing up, many young hockey fans dream of winning the big game. For the majority, these dreams die with age. School, then work, takes priority. Dreams change and dreamers become spectators. By the time many realize this, their ship has sailed, reality has settled in, and skating – much less handling a puck, maneuvering past a defender, and scoring a goal – has become an impossibility. In other cities, these players would be stranded, left to struggle in adult leagues until they dropped out or met the improbable goal of keeping pace.

However, Louisville is not most cities. Through the dedication of a few individuals, adult hockey has seen much success here. To these visionaries, the absence of adult hockey in Louisville was not an unfortunate reality, but a circumstance that they were capable of changing.

The Louisville Adult Hockey Players Association – LAHPA for short – was founded more out of necessity than anything else. Prior to its inception, adult hockey in Louisville was managed by the local rinks. However, because the rinks were busy with other programs, it was difficult to make hockey a priority. Between scheduling games, organizing leagues, balancing teams, and finding referees, the rinks simply did not have the time or manpower to handle it. Realizing the need for an organization, Rob Jenkins founded and has since commissioned the LAHPA.

“I knew I needed to create a nonthreatening, unintimidating place where an adult beginner could learn to play and be surrounded by beginners.”

With Jenkins at the helm, adult hockey in Louisville found its home. Teams were organized, schedules were made, goalies and referees were found, and organized adult hockey in Louisville began to take off. Despite this, new players were few and far between. Jenkins, a Michigan native and longtime hockey fan, recognized the potential for fun and began playing. However, between buying gear, paying dues, and learning an array of otherwise foreign skills, he realized just how difficult it was to pick up the sport

“I remember thinking that unless you were a diehard fan like me, who would do something like this?” said Jenkins.

By playing the role of both commissioner and rookie, Jenkins has a unique perspective. He has witnessed the ebb and flow of player enrollments around the league. Many hockey faithful – new like Jenkins – would join a team only to feel overwhelmed and disappear after a season or even a couple of games.

“I equated it to someone who had never played basketball as a child and then joined the team in high school and was paired up with kids who had been playing most of their lives,” said Jenkins. “I knew I needed to create a nonthreatening, unintimidating place where an adult beginner could learn to play and be surrounded by beginners.”

But great programs don’t come without great leaders and Jenkins knew he needed someone who was passionate about hockey, able to coach adults, and patient enough to explain even the most basic aspects of skating and the game. Enter Don Rogers, a 50-year hockey veteran who played at The Ohio State University in the ‘70s and has coached and played hockey at a variety of levels. With the work of Jenkins and Rogers, Louisville’s Never Ever League – an instructional adult league for the absolute beginner – was born.

Don Rogers instructs the Never Ever League during a chalk talk at the beginning of practice. Photo by Hunter Wilson/Kertis Creative.

Don Rogers instructs the Never Ever League during a chalk talk at the beginning of practice.
Photo by Hunter Wilson/Kertis Creative.

Before Rogers, beginner hockey in Louisville consisted of a series of scrimmages akin to throwing a new swimmer in the deep end of the pool. Wanting to keep people interested, Rogers implemented his own approach: He starts each practice with a “chalk talk” on game strategy, positioning, and skating fundamentals. He follows this with on-ice instruction, drills, and a scrimmage, all of which are led by the coaches he has selected, all of whom are Never Ever graduates.

The players come from all walks of life. Some are young; some are old. Some are men; some are women. Some follow professional hockey; some don’t. What binds them is an interest in something new, a desire to learn among others and give something a shot. Upon registration, all players are divided into two teams – blue or white – where they then take the 10 weeks of instruction and scrimmaging to develop as players, build camaraderie, and help one another learn.

Rogers’ commitment to the game is unwavering. Having lived in a number of cities and played with an even larger number of leagues, Rogers’ social life revolves around hockey. It is something to which Rogers credits his athleticism, his friendships, and even his college education. Now at a later stage in his career, Rogers brings that same commitment to the Never Ever League.

“I just want to contribute to player development,” said Rogers. “Anymore, I win by teaching people to play the game.”

The weeks of instruction and scrimmaging build up to the Kinslow Cup – named after the late Chuck Kinslow, a Never Ever participant – a full-length game between the two teams complete with player introductions, the national anthem, spectators, and an awards presentation for the winner. Recognizing that many players had never taken part in a championship game before, Rogers brought the Kinslow Cup to the league to add both interest and pressure. Just as in professional hockey, the winners’ names are engraved in the side of the Kinslow Cup. Future Never Ever participants can revive their childhood hockey dreams by aspiring to have their names engraved in the cup as well.

While the Never Ever League may seem like just another hockey league, to its graduates and members it is much more. It gives hockey fans that chance to take part in the game, learn to skate, and have the much-desired glory of being able to hoist a trophy alongside teammates. Most people would not even expect hockey to exist – much less thrive – in Louisville. Despite this, it has thrived. The Never Ever League has graduated over 250 adult hockey players. All of this is due, as with many things in Louisville, to the ideas and dedication of one person who decided to make an idea a reality.

The Never Ever League operates out of Iceland Sports Complex, located at 1701 UPS Drive, and can be found online at lahpa.com. In addition to the Never Ever League, the LAHPA operates B, C, D, and Z leagues, as well as the Saturday Night Fever League and the Over 30 League. Graduates of the Never Ever League can also take Advanced Skills classes as they progress through the leagues.