The Bloomington sporting scene is famous for basketball, of course, and collegiate soccer. But hockey? Not so much. Unless, that is, you’re involved with Bloomington Blades, a youth hockey association that for the past several years has been turning out a surprising number of top-level teams. Take, for instance, the Squirts (10- and 11-year-olds). In the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, the Squirts won the Buckeye League A1 Division Championship, the Chiefs Classic Tournament in Champaign, Illinois, and the Louisville Invitational. In 2004, they won the Indiana State Hockey Championship.

“We tend to attract kids who are really dedicated to practicing and improving, and we have volunteer coaches who care about the kids and want them to have fun but also want the teams to be competitive,” says Kathleen Oliver, president of the Bloomington Blades Board of Directors.

Bloomington Blades programs at the Frank Southern Ice Arena include travel teams for kids ages 6 to 14, House Hockey for kids who want to play locally, and Cubs House Hockey for 4- to 6-year-olds who want to get a head start on learning the sport. (Bloomington Blades High School Hockey, for high-school-age players, is a separate organization.)

Unlike most other sports that youngsters can begin playing immediately, hockey requires the ability to skate. But, says Oliver, not knowing how to skate should not discourage kids and parents from giving hockey a try. “Learning to skate takes time and effort, but wanting to play hockey is a great incentive for improving your skating skills,” she says. “I’ve seen kids who’ve never skated before but who are naturally athletic learn on the fly while playing House Hockey.”

A major concern for many parents with a contact sport like hockey is the risk of concussions. Oliver says that Blades coaches are well aware of the issue and are trained to sit players who may have been concussed and administer tests to monitor their cognitive functioning.

Although Bloomington offers a bevy of youth sports options, Oliver says that hockey is worth considering because it’s something different and, most importantly, a lot of fun. “It’s the kind of sport where the whole family gets involved, with lots of camaraderie among parents and kids. If you’re interested in trying something new, Bloomington Blades hockey is for you.”

To see the kids in action, games are played Sundays during the winter at Frank Southern Ice Arena, starting as early as 8 am. For those wishing to give hockey a shot, Bloomington Blades hosts an annual Try Hockey For Free day every fall.