Hockey: 'It's just good, clean fun'
By Trish Gannon
He's a specialist in horses, but when it comes to his off-time, Dr. Robert Pierce's passion is ice - as in ice hockey. "It's an exhilarating sport," said this Sandpoint veterinarian who, along with his wife, Dr. Dawn Mehra, own and operate North Idaho Animal Hospital. "It's tremendous fun, and it demands that you put aside your personal goals to work as a team. It really can be a safe game too, contrary to its violent image," he added. "It's just good, clean fun."
Pierce's love of the sport began during his adolescence at hockey camps in Minnesota, such as the one owned by legendary hockey great Bobby Orr. "I played at Orr's camp for three years, and many of my fellow players went on to the NHL. I wanted to be a professional player up until high school," he said.
He continued to play even as an adult; at least, until he moved his family to the Sandpoint area five years ago. "When we moved here, there was nothing. It left a big hole in my life."
Although Pierce did play on a Spokane team for a while, it was "too far to commute." So he placed flyers all over town, looking for others who might be interested in playing hockey.
He soon partnered with George Stonekes, and under the sponsorship of Ralph Sletager and the Power House Bar & Grill's Mark Clarkson, Sandpoint's first hockey team hit the ice in '97. "George called me and said, 'I'm the person you're looking for.' And he was right. He had organized a whole team in southern Idaho, had done all the footwork. He kind of manages the team," Pierce said.
By '98 they finished the season in a respectable fourth place, and in '99 Sandpoint is looking to field two adult teams.
Team member Clint Eberley is a Sandpoint native and the owner of Northern States Pest Control. He played hockey for the first time just two years ago, when he practiced with some of the guys on the team. He says the game is a great physical workout. "You're on the ice about 60 minutes," he explained, "going full out. It's an adrenaline sport, awesome for building leg muscles, and the cardiovascular workout is unlike anything else you can do. I felt great when the season was over," he said.
And Eberley, along with Pierce, says it's not the rough-and-tumble sport seen on television. "We're a bunch of fairly intelligent, middle-aged men," he said. "We don't want to get hurt."
Now Pierce and his fellow hockey aficionados want to go further. In addition to forming a children's team, Pierce, Stonekes and Eberley formed a non-profit, Sandpoint Centre Corp., and they are determined to build an indoor ice rink in town.
"A rink provides quality family time and will help improve our area as a winter destination with skiing, skating and ice hockey. But it's way expensive," he added. "You can't do it cheaply."
The team has tried to use Chuck Sandelin's T-Heart arena out near Colburn, but "Chuck's been really hammered by the weather." T-Heart is an open-air arena and, says Pierce, "You really need a roof to keep out the elements." The group is open to any offers of assistance.
It's an idea that seems ripe for Sandpoint, where the dreams and dedication of community-minded individuals have created athletic fields, private schools and great events like The Festival at Sandpoint and The Long Bridge Swim. With British Columbia so close and professional players to enhance the rink, ice hockey is a natural for this area, they say.
"This is an opportunity to be involved in bringing something really positive to the area, both economically and for our children," Pierce explained. The group envisions a safe place where kids can go after school, learn to skate and have some fun; a place where parents and their children can play together, a place available to the community during the summer months for other events and a place for hockey.
"It's providing the community a place for just about every age group. We want to be a whole community center. While it will be an ice rink six months out of the year, the rest of the year it will be for the community," Eberley said.
"The benefit is obvious," Pierce added. "Events such as adult and youth hockey tournaments, attract hundreds of people. (And) a gathering place for children to undertake healthy, organized and safely supervised activities is sorely needed in our community."
To contact the Sandpoint Centre Corp., call 208/265-9288 or email [email protected]