Trevor and Josh Pentico have been playing hockey since before they could read. It’s a sport the two enjoy and has been a longtime family affair in the Pentico household.
“There are two seasons in this house — hockey and everything else,” says their step-mother, Dawn Pentico.
Dawn works as the general manager of business operations for the Des Moines Buccaneers hockey team. Dad, Rich, plays in a men’s recreational league and is in charge of the 50-50 raffle for the Bucs’ Booster Club. He’s been involved with the team for more than 20 years.
Josh, 16, and Trevor, 17, started playing roller hockey at ages 5 and 6. The teens are a sophomore and junior at Norwalk High School. After a few years, they switched to ice and started playing with the Des Moines Youth Hockey Association.
Once they entered high school, both boys started to play in the Des Moines Metro High School Hockey League on the Norwalk/Waukee Warriors team. As of press time, the 15-player team was tied with the Valley (West Des Moines) team for the lead with an 8-4 record, says Warriors coach Justin Hillcock, who is in his third year coaching for the league.
This is Trevor’s fifth year as goal tender for his team. Josh plays defense.
High school hockey league regroups with school teams
The Des Moines Metro High School Hockey League reorganized its team structure about 10 years ago through the influence of parents who noticed participation was trailing off. The thought was high schoolers weren’t interested in being placed on a random team and felt more pride representing their school, though school districts did not want to charter the sport, Rich says.
The league decided to align teams with area high schools, and nine teams formed in the Des Moines metro. The Penticos say the league is one of the only ways kids in Iowa can play the sport because it is not a chartered high school activity like it is in some surrounding states, including Minnesota.
“It gives kids that normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to play at a higher level,” Dawn says.
Hillcock says a wide range of kids play on the team — from those who are varsity athletes in other sports to a female player from East Marshall who is playing for the first time at the high school level after about a five-year absence. Some have been playing since they were kids, while others didn’t pick it up until junior high.
Max Chasten, a freshman right wing on the Warriors team, began playing hockey two years ago. He caught the hockey bug early on — his parents were season ticket-holders to the Bucs when he was a young boy.
“He loved hockey from the time he was old enough to walk,” his mother, Lisa Chasten, says.
The Chastens weren’t aware of the Des Moines Youth Hockey League until their three boys were older. All three eventually played, and it’s a sport the entire family has enjoyed through the years.
“I think it was their enthusiasm; they loved it,” Lisa Chasten says of her sons. “I’m not a big sports fan, but I understand hockey.”
Trevor Pentico was recruited as an eighth-grader to play for the Urbandale team because it was in need of a goalie.
“I don’t think there’s ever been another eighth-grade goal tender,” Rich says.
The time on the ice has helped Trevor. Last year he was awarded “Goalie of the Year” at the league’s end-of-season banquet. This year he and Valley’s goalie are again neck and neck statistic-wise for the award.
Trevor says it was a surprise when his name was called at the banquet for the award. He didn’t realize his season had been so good. He says playing hockey also has helped him off the ice and on the soccer field. He is the goal tender for Norwalk High School’s varsity boys’ soccer team, and says playing hockey has helped improve his reaction time in soccer.
League holds annual fundraiser for cancer survivors, banquet for players
The Des Moines Metro High School Hockey League has participated in several service projects through the years including Adopt a Family during the Christmas season.
Its biggest fundraising event is the annual “Pink in the Rink” event, which benefits cancer survivors. This year it will take place on Feb. 16 at the Metro Ice Sports Facility in Urbandale. Games begin at 3 p.m. The players will wear pink uniforms.
Family members and friends of players who are cancer survivors are invited onto the ice for an honorary puck drop. There are raffles, and each team raises money that goes to various cancer charities and treatment centers. Last year it was about $1,500 to the John Stoddard Cancer Center in Des Moines. The coach whose team raises the most money dyes his hair pink.
The league will host its annual banquet on March 8, where scholarships and awards for top scorer, top goalie and others will be given to players. Since the league began a little more than a decade ago, between $30,000 and $40,000 in scholarships have been given to seniors pursuing post-secondary education.
“We treat it very much like it were a varsity sport at the high school,” says Brad Barrett, another coach in the league.
Players are asked to turn in their grades so coaches can see whether they are keeping up academically in the classroom. If players get in trouble off the rink, it can mean a loss of ice team or even removal from the team.
Participation decreases; coaches, players hope it will rebound in the coming years
Participation levels have gone down in recent years. There are now four teams in the league, which has some benefits, parents and players say. A smaller number of teams allows for more players on a team and several players in each position for more depth.
Bill Watson, commissioner of the high school hockey league, says participation also dipped because of disorganization among the youth hockey league, which means the decreased number of players has now trickled up to the high school level. The league appears to be rebounding with increased participation at the younger levels and after high school aligned teams were created, he says.
“It pulls in kids from the entire metro area,” Watson says. “These kids that are playing get a chance to meet or play with kids that they otherwise might not meet.”
Trevor Pentico agrees that’s one of the reasons why he likes playing hockey. Josh says he likes playing because it is fun. His dad agrees and says the players receive a good workout and lessons on life: how sometimes you win; sometimes you lose; and how both can be by a lot and within the last few minutes of a game.
Hillcock, the Warriors coach, views hockey as something more. It’s more than learning to pass the puck and skate on the ice — it’s about playing smarter and wiser, so they can play into their adulthood.
“It’s a sport, but at this level with them being high school kids, my job as their coach is to teach them the game of hockey that can become a lifelong sport,” he says.
After high school, several players have gone on to play in recreational or intramural leagues at their colleges and universities.
Hillcock says this year means the graduation of 28 of the 60 players who currently play in the league.
“We’re really hurting for kids to come out and play,” he says. “We could really use the support of kids who are interested in coming out and learning to play hockey.”
Hillcock and others say there are several factors that have contributed to the decline in participation: No. 1 is hockey is an expensive sport. It can cost almost $1,000 to $1,200 for a high school player to get skates, jerseys, equipment and pay for ice time.
The Penticos say second-hand sports equipment stores have become a good resource for equipment.
Hillcock says the specialization of sports in the United States also is to blame. When he was a youngster, most of his teammates played other sports during the off season, particularly soccer because the two complement each other in terms of improving a player’s foot work and body coordination. Nowadays, he says, most players are lost to hockey by ages 12 to 14 because they have decided to focus on a single sport. Hockey also gets more aggressive at ages 12 and 13 when body-checking becomes more prominent, which Hillcock admits could be a turn off to weaker skaters and smaller players.
Both Pentico boys have been injured while playing, though fortunately it was nothing serious, their mother, Dawn, says.
Lisa Chasten says she’s been asked by others if she’s afraid her boys would be hurt while playing. She says with the padding worn and the fact that the players don’t fight like professional hockey players, she doesn’t find the sport to be any more dangerous than any other. It’s more likely participation has gone down because of lack of information about the league. Even though Max practices once a week and has one game a week, he receives no recognition from his school to do so, his mother says.
“I don’t feel that very many people in Norwalk are even aware because it’s not affiliated with the school,” Chasten says. “They don’t look at it as a sport.”