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From the desert to the ice rinks

January 28, 2002|By RICHARD MYERS

Sports editor

Growing up in El Centro, Archie Dessert loved to roller blade.

He enjoyed it so much that when the program folded in the Imperial Valley, he went to San Diego so he could keep skating.

While in San Diego, the 18-year-old Southwest High senior had the opportunity to try ice hockey. Two weeks after strapping on his first pair of ice skates, he was trying out for an ice hockey team. He made it and soon found he enjoyed the new sport even more than the old one.

"I get to hit kids more," he said with a smile.

Ice hockey can be a hard contact sport, as evidenced by the rough play in the National Hockey League. And Dessert has fit right in, as a defenseman on the Los Angeles Junior Kings major division youth squad for youths age 15-18.


He has played a little forward, but prefers his role as a defenseman because he gets to slam into opponents more.

"I'm not a goon per se," Dessert said. "It's just that I'm one of the biggest kids on the team."

At 6-2, 205, Dessert dwarfs many of his teammates, some of whom are only 5-7, 140.

Dessert has exploited his size to the fullest, within the rules of course.

"I don't cheap shot people," he said.

He has been known to mix it up a bit, as many good hockey players do.

One game in particular stands out.

In a game against a rival team from San Diego, there was an opposing player who was doing a lot of trash talking, Dessert explained. The player also used his stick to hit Dessert.

"He hacked me in the legs and hooked me in the groin," Dessert said.

Dessert finally got retribution, even though it was unplanned.

"Our helmets hit," Dessert said of a collision between both skaters. The force was so great the other player suffered a pretty bad concussion.

"He had blood running down his face" and he ended up going to the hospital.

But not before Dessert enjoyed one last moment.

"As they were walking out I saw his girlfriend carrying his bag. His head was down. I was laughing."

As Dessert sees it, the hit was legal. No penalty was called.

But that's not the way some saw it.

"His parents filed a suit against me with USA Hockey," Dessert said. "They say I hit him deliberately. That's crazy.

"Hey, hockey is a contact sport," Dessert said.

It's natural for there to be penalties and even some fights at the NHL level. But there are checks in place to try to keep games somewhat civilized.

If a player at Dessert's level picks up five penalties in one game, the player is kicked out of the game. Dessert conceded it's happened to him a few times.

"To some refs, it's like I can't do anything right," Dessert said.

He added the calls against him depend upon the officials.

"There are some bad refs in hockey, just like in any sport.

"Some games I might get five penalties and other games I might not have any," he added.

Such is the life of a hockey player. And what a life it is for Dessert, who has to commute three hours each way to attend practice.

The club practices Tuesday and Thursday nights. Sometimes there are games on Friday night as well as on weekends.

A traveling team, the Junior Kings play a lot of out-of-state games. Dessert noted he has traveled to the Midwest for games in Illinois and Michigan.

The club is in the Pacific Division, which includes teams from California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Nevada. Dessert said the season runs from September to April and he plays in 40 to 50 games.

He's been to national tournaments as well as regional ones. He's been invited to select all-star camps.

While he is a defenseman, Dessert has had a lot of scoring opportunities.

"Another defenseman and myself have more points than a lot of the forwards on our team," he said.

This is his last year in youth hockey. The next step is junior hockey, where players are assigned to teams and live away from home for a year or two.

If he does well enough in junior hockey he might be invited to play at a college.

"I want to play Division I for sure," he said, adding he's gotten a few letters already from universities.

And maybe the NHL will beckon in a few years, Dessert said.

Not too bad for someone whose roots started in the Imperial Valley desert.

He was so foreign to the sport that he intially had a bit of trouble adjusting.

At that first tryout, Dessert remembers the coaches telling him to stop while sliding to his right and then to his left.

"I could do it to the right," he said, but not to his left.

It didn't take him long to master the moves. And not he's gliding along just smoothly after the humble beginning four years ago.

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