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Hockey minus skates - how Dek Hockey is increasing access to the sport in Wilkes-Barre

Daniel Wizda chases down the ball at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins new Dek Hockey rink.
Aimee Dilger
Daniel Wizda chases down the ball at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins new Dek Hockey rink.

Joe Lukashunas’s son, Landon, has never played ice hockey.

They live in Hazleton, where street hockey has become popular, but when Lukashunas heard about the new Dek Hockey rink in Wilkes-Barre, he signed Landon up.

“I coached his street hockey team, and we were looking for something that was maybe a little better,” he said. “We found that up here.”

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins opened the Dek Hockey rink on Coal Street in Wilkes-Barre earlier this year, and throughout the summer started both a youth league and a rec league for adults.

Kyle Hammer runs both leagues for the team. He says the youth league in particular is designed to attract more kids to the sport of hockey in any form - especially ones like Landon who haven’t tried ice hockey before.

The youth league started midway through the summer after Hammer hosted a few clinics to teach the sport. By August, all eight teams across the league’s two age divisions were in full swing, running up and down the rink.

Dek Hockey is played just like ice hockey, but the players run rather than skate on the Dek surface of soft but sturdy plastic tiles over concrete.

Referee Tom Armstrong drops a ball into play.
Referee Tom Armstrong drops a ball into play.

“It’s a perfect way to get kids out that don’t know how to skate,” Hammer said. “We also want to try and encourage kids to start to play ice hockey as well.”

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins drew some inspiration from their NHL Affiliate, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team runs dek and ball hockey rinks in parks throughout the city of Pittsburgh.

Jim Britt, Vice President of Fan Development and Growth for the Pittsburgh Penguins, said the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and Highmark have helped open 16 Dek Hockey rinks in Pennsylvania in the last 10 years or so.

"It's been incredible for us in western Pennsylvania as a really easy access point for kids and adults to try hockey," he said.

Dek Hockey requires much less equipment than ice hockey, and some parents have been more interested due to the lower cost of entry. Hammer says the entry fees for the Dek Hockey league are half of what they would be for ice hockey.

Britt said they've also targeted neighborhoods where ice hockey rinks might be hard to reach.

"We've seen a huge boost in participation," he said. "A number of these decks are heavily, heavily used and programmed."

Lukashunas said the price and the surface of the dek itself piqued his interest.

“It’s definitely a lot cheaper than ice hockey… you don’t have to invest in skates and the kids already know how to run,” he said. “It’s (also) a little bit smoother than the street hockey surface, so they’re able to run without tripping or getting caught in the cracks.”

After their game on a recent Sunday morning, Aiden Ramirez and Zachary Maochefski said being involved in Dek Hockey has given them a new sport to play over the summer.

“You get a lot of friendships here,” Zachary said. “You get players that help you out playing… and every time, you just win.”

Sarah Scinto is the local host of All Things Considered on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.