By Kyle Shohara
With the 2013 FIRS World Championship coming to Orange County on July 7-20, it’s an exciting time for Ken Murchison and his cohorts in the inline game. Murchison is the general manager of THE RINKS – Corona Inline and the head coach of the U.S. Men’s team for the FIRS World Championships held at THE RINKS - Huntington Beach Inline and Honda Center. After winning a gold medal in the 2012 FIRS World Championship, Murchison and his squad look to repeat, but this time on home soil.
Murchison sat down with AnaheimDucks.com to discuss his involvement in FIRS, his professional roller hockey background and the growth of the game on a local – and worldwide – level.
What was your experience coaching the gold medal-winning U.S. squad last year?
It was incredible. To get back to that level of hockey with the men was something that was very enjoyable for me. When I coached the junior men’s team, it was the week before the men played, so I never really watched the men play at the World’s before. That was really my first crack at it, my first time seeing it. When we got in and saw the pace, the quickness of the game, you just knew you had to get caught up and focused on that level. It was really enjoyable. It was a great experience in Colombia, starting from the host committee to it being my first time down in South America. It was a great venue with great fans that supported the event. The competition was phenomenal. There were six to eight teams that really could’ve competed to win it. It went well for us. I still don’t believe we were the best team on paper there last year, but we had great team chemistry. Things went our way. We played a really good team game.
Over 24 countries, 55 teams and 600 athletes will compete in this year’s FIRS World Championships. What does that say about the growth of the sport?
It really is growing worldwide. And probably right now, the majority of that growth in inline hockey isn’t happening in the states. It’s happening in South America. It’s happening in Europe, over in Asia, in China and Japan, and even down in Australia and New Zealand, even in Africa. A lot of these countries where you wouldn’t typically think there’s hockey being played.
That’s the great thing about inline hockey. It provides the opportunities for people to play the sport of hockey in the southern part of the world, the southern hemisphere. Economically, it just makes a lot of sense where they can afford the inline and be able to play the inline out in the street or in an outdoor rink versus ice hockey. We’re seeing a lot of growth in a lot of those areas, and that’s why we really put a focus on getting it here, just to showcase that. It’s something that’s lost in our sport, on really how big it is.
What does it mean to SoCal roller hockey for the FIRS tournament to be hosted here?
There’s no question that Southern California, or California as a whole, is considered a hotbed for inline hockey in the States. So, for the kids here and the kids in the U.S., to see the sport they love on such a worldly level is just incredible for them because it trickles down. We have the Worlds going on, but a lot of these countries are also bringing in their youth teams. It’s a unique opportunity for these kids, and even for the guys who are representing the states at the Worlds. To be able to play these other countries and have that international flavor is unique and something to be cherished.
What are you most looking forward to with this year’s tournament?
It’s different this year. To come in as defending champs, it obviously puts a different spin on it, and different challenges with that. To be on home soil brings different challenges. There are distractions and stuff that you don’t have when you go away. But, I’ve talked to some of the players about it. One of our guys who’s played for Team USA before, this is the first time for his family to see him wearing the USA jersey. So I know there are little things like that the guys take a lot of pride in. We’re excited and ready to go. The competition level will be great. There are going to be a handful of teams that will be in the thick of things to try to win gold. But that challenge of repeating and doing it on home soil is a great opportunity, and it’s infectious. We really want to do that here, and be successful at home.
What are the biggest challenges repeating as gold-medal winners?
We have probably half the team as last year. So we brought in some new blood to the team, and guys who haven’t played before. So adding some new guys who haven’t experienced that level before will be good for the returning guys. But, it’s different. From having family here, and girlfriends and people who also want your time, it’ll be a little bit different for the guys.
When we went to Colombia last year, it was just us. We spent every time of day together. So with a short tournament, to build that chemistry, that was crucial last year for us. So we’re putting all the guys in a hotel because we obviously want to go through that same experience even though we’re home.
With so many roller hockey players working full-time jobs outside of the sport, does that speak volumes for the love they have for the game?
Yeah, I think it does. The majority of these guys have a day job, but they’re going to the rink at night. They’re going to tournaments. There is a pro level at the tournaments and they play competitively, but the majority of that happens in, really, a month and a half stand during the summer. There’s still a lot of downtime, but these guys source out hockey. They find ways to play. They find ways to stay in shape. And it’s a passion. They love it. There are some professional leagues now in France and Italy, and some of our players go over there during the winter and play inline hockey overseas now. But at the end of the day, the World Championships yearly is the highest level they can play. And this year we go to World Games, which happens every four years. That’s the highest level of inline hockey you can play. Our roster for the World Championships is 16. There are only 16 players in the country that have that opportunity. So, it’s unique. When they get that opportunity, and that call to play for their country, it’s a special thing. That window of opportunity to do that isn’t there for very long. These guys are passionate about it, which I think is why, typically, the U.S. does well. These guys are on their inline skates a lot, which plays well for us.
From your days as an Anaheim Bullfrog (1993-94), how has the roller hockey landscape changed since then?
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