Demetrius Rodgers remembers taking a date ice-skating in college.
He was a little apprehensive on the ice. After all, the Nashville, Tenn., native didn’t know how to skate.
That was the old Demetrius Rodgers. The new Demetrius Rodgers, now 38 years old, is an avid hockey player and an improving skater. One big reason for that is the USA Hockey’s Adult First Goal Program.
Rodgers signed up for a one-day class in August 2013 to learn how to play hockey. But before he could grab a stick and unleash a slap shot, he had to make baby steps on the ice. It was a slow process.
Rodgers, along with 40 to 50 other adults, took part in the Adult First Goal Program class at the Bridgestone Arena, home of the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators.
“It was a blast being on the ice,” Rodgers said. “It was the first time I’d ever been on that ice at Bridgestone. That alone was just, ‘Wow.’ But over time it really made me appreciate this sport.”
He became interested in hockey when a co-worker asked Rodgers if he wanted to attend a Predators game. The Predators fell to the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Jan. 5, 2012, but a hockey fan was born.
“That first game, I’ll never forget,” Rodgers said.
During that same NHL season in early April, Rodgers went to a Predators game with his wife and daughter. Two days later, Rodgers was back at Bridgestone Arena for the Predators’ regular-season finale. That postseason, the Predators advanced to the conference semifinals before their season ended.
“The playoffs started, and that really got me hooked,” Rodgers said.
Still loving every second of a hockey game, Rodgers’ wife saw the Adult First Goal Program was running a class at the local arena, so she wanted to attend. Rodgers decided to go, too. With the class being held in August, Rodgers got onto the ice once in June 2013 — it was his first time since his date in college.
Prior to the class, Rodgers had never been in hockey gear before. His wife had never before put both feet on the ice. The participants went through drills and skated around cones during the hour-plus session. It was almost a life-changing event for Rodgers.
“I know that really stuck with a lot of people, and he was one of them,” said Rodgers’ friend, Justin Bradford. “He really took a lot from that class.”
A few weeks later, Rodgers started purchasing hockey equipment. He was fully entrenched in the sport. In October of last year, Rodgers began attending stick-and-puck sessions at different rinks. He was still learning how to skate and handle the puck while trying not to crash into anyone.
“I just kind of put my feet to the fire on ice to push myself to learn to play,” Rodgers said. “At some point, little things started happening, I just didn’t know it.”
Rodgers kept practicing. It didn’t take long before he had the urge to join a men’s league. In January of this year, Rodgers registered as a free agent in an adult league. He was picked up by the Sentinels in the introductory level D-League at the A-Game Sportsplex in Franklin, Tenn.
“I had to take a big slice of humble pie because my first season. I’m competitive, I’m yelling and I’m telling everybody what to do,” Rodgers said. “I think I know everything about hockey even though I can’t physically do it. I had to get knocked down a few pegs, because I was a bad teammate. That was helpful because I had to understand things about myself.”
By May, Rodgers was filling in for the shorthanded Sentinels in the higher level C-League. He eventually worked his way full time onto the C-League team.
“I just remember a year ago where he was having trouble standing up and skating, grabbing the wall,” Bradford said. “Now, he seems to be a pretty fluid skater, working on his skill set, going from a complete novice to being a legitimate C-League player. That’s really good in a year to be able to do that.”
This fall, Rodgers is playing full-time with the Sentinels C-League teams on Sundays at A-Game and on Mondays and Wednesdays at Ford Ice Center in Nashville. When he can, Rodgers is also playing on the D-League team on Sundays.
There’s no stopping Rodgers’ desire to play hockey all the time. He can’t even have a conversation with Bradford without mentioning his favorite sport.
“Oh, yeah, it’s 24-7,” joked Bradford, who also plays in adult hockey in Nashville. “It’s about hockey, about equipment, what a new stick he has, new skates that he’s buying. It’s 24-7 non-stop.”
Rodgers is finding success on the ice. During a recent two-day stretch in which he played three league games, he scored a goal in each contest.
“I’ve found a scoring touch somehow,” Rodgers said laughing. “Got to keep working, man.”
Rodgers continues to work hard. That’s never been an issue. He wants to improve his stickhandling and get off his shot quickly and effectively. He’s also trying to learn a crossover while skating.
For a non-traditional hockey player first starting out in his mid-30s, Rodgers has been a success story on the ice.
“He is a perfect example of what hockey is becoming now days and what it needs to become,” Bradford said. “He’s showing people that no matter how old you are, no matter what your background is, you can play the sport that you love and you shouldn’t let anything hold you back. He’s proven that.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.