Love of hockey isn't about geography

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- In case you were wondering, yes, there is a big chart in the Niedermayer home tracking the comings and goings of a busy hockey family.

"Yeah. No, we do -- and I'm not allowed to touch it because I mess it up," Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer explained. "So I'm just allowed to read it and get my instructions." 

On this night, three of Niedermayer's four boys (ages 14, 12, 9 and 5) have hockey practice, and he is scheduled to be at the Ducks' home game against the Kings as part of his job as an assistant coach with Anaheim.

"I might be able to drop one of them on my way to the rink and then my wife is going to go crazy," he said with a laugh.

Niedermayer and his wife, Lisa, grew up in British Columbia, and he admits that when he signed with the Ducks in 2005, moving from New Jersey to join his brother, Rob, in California, he never envisioned that Southern California would become their home.

More than that, he never envisioned that life in Southern California would involve so much hockey. But the game remains not just a career to Niedermayer; it has become very much a part of the fabric of his boys' lives.

"The two oldest, when we got here we kind of got them into hockey at a local rink near where we live," Niedermayer said. "I didn't really know what to expect. Probably, actually, even at that point, I was a little bit surprised with how much hockey was around if you looked for it. It's not everywhere where you look. It's not always in your face, the front of the paper, wherever or the first thing people talk about when you bump into them. But I was a little bit surprised at how much hockey there was here and the leagues all spread out around L.A., how many rinks there are sort of sprinkled here and there in places you'd never guess."

On the eve of the outdoor game between the Ducks and the Kings at Dodger Stadium, it's fashionable to point to players like Ducks prospect Emerson Etem (Anaheim's first-round draft pick who grew up in Southern California) or Pittsburgh's Beau Bennett (born in Gardena, Calif.) as a sign of the area's affection for the game.

Those young men and the others from California who are regularly drafted by NHL clubs are the shiny baubles in hockey's California treasure trove. But it's what hums along beneath the surface -- the strong, steady heartbeat of a hockey community -- that truly tells the story of the game on the left coast.

In 2009, the Ducks began to consolidate local rink operations under the corporate umbrella The Rinks. They now oversee seven facilities, four traditional hockey rinks and three roller rinks.

High school hockey has exploded in Southern California, with 19 schools involved, and last year the Santa Margarita Eagles won a national varsity title, defeating a team from Colorado. The team is coached by former NHLer Craig Johnson.

The game is so popular at the youth/high school level that The Rinks now has to rent ice from other facilities to meet the demand for ice time.

Niedermayer has seen that evolution through the eyes of his oldest boy; some of his son's peers are playing both club and high school hockey.

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