Two sisters’ dedication to ‘rink hockey’ pays off

You might say it was the Hughes sisters’ fate to fall in love with a game on roller skates.

The girls’ parents, Tom and Janis Hughes, first met while roller-skating one day at the now-defunct roller skating rink “Anchorage Great Skate.”

Roller-skating, and rink hockey for that matter, have always been second nature to the Hughes family. By the time Tom and Janis had their first daughter Shellie, they had opened a roller rink of their own in Anchorage. Separated in age by about 10 years, sisters’ Shellie, Kimberly, and Kylie would all share one thing in common: the love of rink hockey, also known as “hardball roller hockey.”

Kimberly Hughes calls the years she was figure skater “her dark past.”

Kylie Hughes recalls she was “dying to play” up until age 4.

Rink hockey has never been a popular sport in Anchorage – a roller game played with quad skates and small sticks akin to those used in field hockey. Many Anchorage youth take to ice hockey at a young age and never look back. The sisters never let that sway them into switching over to ice, despite being some of the only girls that played.

“It was more self-driven than anything,” Kimberly says about her early years in the sport, “there was a lot of times when we didn’t have full teams of people to practice (with), so we would come over – just us.”

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Although there were few other rink hockey players in Anchorage, Tom Hughes would take his daughters to the lower-48 every year to play in the national tournament.

“The competition is in the air —you can feel it,” says Tom Hughes of the tournament, “the kids get along with everybody. It’s just a big family really.”

Playing against better competition was all the motivation Kimberly and Kylie to needed to get better.

Slowly but surely, the sisters began getting good. Like, really good. So much so that they began catching the eye of the US National Team. In 2002, Kimberly joined Team U.S.A. in the Federation of International Roller Sports (FIRS) Women’s Rink Hockey World Cup. Younger sister Kylie wasn’t far behind either from making the squad. Kylie made the national team in 2008.

“We enjoy the national tournament every year, but we live for the chance that we’ll be picked on the team for the international play, Kimberly says, “because that is just amazing.”

Kimberly has represented the US in five women’s rink hockey world cups, and Kylie four. The two competed together in Alcobendas, Spain in 2010, Recife, Brazil in 2012, and Tourcoing, France in 2014.

The US women’s team finished 8th, 10th, and 12th respectively the last three years.

The tournament in France was the first time 3 Hughes family members made the national team. Tom Hughes was named the co-coach of that years’ team.

“The fact that my Dad gets to coach us, that really makes me proud,” Kylie said.

The international experience has helped Kimberly and Kylie teach the next generation of rink hockey players. The sport has been growing as a result. Beginners are readily welcomed into the “Sno-Devil” family – the sole Anchorage rink hockey club. This club has grown now to over 30 members, many of them families that all enjoy the sport. The more the merrier for Kylie.

“I would love to see twice as many, four times as many teams up here playing.”

Both Kimberly and Kylie don’t like the idea of walking away from this game. Kimberly, now in her 30s and raising two children, knows that day will come sooner rather than later.

“I keep thinking of going through the day … when I have to say ‘I’m too old to play,’ and how am I going to handle that?” Kimberly says.
“Hopefully that day is far down the road.”