The heck with baby shoes; in certain neighborhoods on the East Side of St. Paul, hockey is such a family value that parents are more likely to bronze their child's first pair of skates. After the best of these kids have proven their mettle on high school or college teams and are still itching for a pickup game on the evenings or weekends--it could be June or January--they rent some ice time at Phalen Arena, strap on the pads, and go at it. According to Bucky Kendig, the hockey coach at St. Paul's Johnson High School, Phalen's ice is kept in better shape than any rink in Ramsey County except maybe the brand-new facility over in Highland Park. "There's a little bit of hitting," Kendig says, the smirk evident in his voice. "Most of the players are kids in the 15- to 22-year-old range. It can get pretty competitive." Indeed, it's fun to watch. And, if you measure up, it's probably even more fun to play.


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