Royal Oak Hockey Association Continues to Thrive
Hockey players for Royal Oak High School and surrounding area schools are trained at the venerable John Lindell Ice Arena.
Imagine hockey at its roots: an outdoor rink. Snow covered ice. Kids dressed for warmth rather than protection and sporting ragtag equipment, yet having the time of their lives.
For one of Michigan's oldest hockey associations, that's exactly how the league was formed 54 years ago. In 1956, the Royal Oak Hockey Association (ROHA) started on a meager budget with only four teams. There wasn't a roof over the ice surface, so play was limited to the winter months. And if it wasn't cold enough, well, then the game was called off.
The ice was bumpy. The puck never slid cleanly. And parents and coaches were recruited between whistles to help shovel the snow off the ice.
No matter. You'd just wish for the days to be cold enough to get out and play.
Boy, weren't those the glory days of hockey?
A lot has changed for the Royal Oak Hockey Association since then. Hockey in Metro Detroit has rapidly grown and the sport has become one of the many staples of the area. ROHA has also expanded with the times, eventually putting a roof over the outdoor rink, and enclosing the surface in the 1970s. Now the association features two enclosed ice sheets.
"Over the years a lot of people have put a lot of time into upgrading our facilities," ROHA President Brian Brennan said. "Our facilities have been well maintained and kept up. It's always in good shape and it adds to the community feeling of our league."
It's easy to miss the home to the ROHA. If you aren't careful, you might drive past John Lindell Ice Arena off Crooks Road between Thirteen and Fourteen Mile roads without knowing it's there – probably directing more attention at nearby Royal Oak High School. But Lindell Arena is back there, tucked off Lexington Boulevard.
With your first steps inside Lindell Arena, you'll experience the homey atmosphere. It's not one of the flashy new glamorous rinks that resembles an airport more than a hockey arena. Instead, Lindell Arena radiates the community vibe that has been bringing families back for multiple generations.
D'Anne McNeil has two boys playing in the Mite League for seven and eight-year olds, one of six hockey divisions that ROHA offers. For McNeil and her family, ROHA is like a second home during the hockey season.
"My husband grew up in ROHA, and a lot of the people he played hockey with then, he still plays with now," said McNeil, who is a member of the Mom's Club which has designed several initiatives to further the association. This year, the Mom's Club is offering a $500 scholarship for a graduating high school senior headed to a trade school or university, open to anyone who has played in ROHA.
"It's the kind of community setting that reaches out and you want to be a part of it," McNeil said. "We are small and yet big at the same time. You just always feel comfortable at our rink."
Maybe the community setting comes from the wide range of leagues and camps offered by ROHA. The association caters to more than 400 players and hosts upwards of 30 teams. If you are just starting out or want to learn the game, no worries, ROHA has something for you.
The Youth Hockey Clinic is targeted for players age three through 11 to teach the basics of skating and hockey. And when the player is ready, he or she can easily be filtered into their respective age division.
ROHA is primarily a "house" or recreational association, with each team shuffling players every year so there isn't a long stretch of dominance by a single team. This also adds to the community feel, as players and parents build a web of relationships with each other during the long hockey season, which stretches from October through March.
ROHA also provides for the advanced hockey player by offering several travel teams. This season is the first that ROHA has offered a Royal Oak Prep hockey team designed to feed talent into the high school's varsity program.
"ROHA is our basic main feeder," said Bob Thibeault, the head coach of the Royal Oak varsity high school team. "With the Prep team, I can go out and see what's in the pipe. It allows me to see how what we will have for the future."
With all the equipment necessary, it's no secret that hockey is an expensive sport. But one of the main goals for ROHA has been to keep the price of ice time down so hockey is available for everyone.
And every player has their time to shine, too. WROK, Royal Oak's Municipal Access Cable operation, televises at least one game for every team during the season.
Sure, the television crews weren't around when ROHA got its start more than half a century ago. But it's one of the perks of an association that shares its values with the community that houses it.