FRISCO, Texas – Seth Brown had plenty of catching up to do when he began playing hockey. When Brown was in fourth grade, his father started playing in an adult rec hockey league, prompting the youngster to give it a try.
There were significant obstacles. He lives on the family farm in the Cherokee Nation within Oklahoma, where the nearest hockey from Stilwell, Oklahoma, was across the state line in Arkansas.
Now, Arkansas hasn’t been a hotbed of hockey. There are just two rinks in the state – one in Little Rock and the other in Springdale.
“My house is about five minutes from the state line,” Brown said. “It’s an hour drive one way to the rink.”
Some of Brown’s peers had been skating for years, or nearly even a decade in some cases, by the time he took to the ice for the first time.
“At first, it was a totally new sport,” he said. “I didn’t know how much there was to learn. My dad made me stick with it. Eventually, I started picking up it.
“My biggest problem was that Stilwell wasn’t near the rink. I had to plan a time when everyone else had left the rink. I had to focus on basics.”
Another problem was that there are just two organized teams in Arkansas — a club team at the University of Arkansas, which practices in Springdale, and the Northwest Arkansas Ice Hogs, the only USA Hockey high school team in the state. Both teams have been coached by Jeremiah Brannon, who has led Seth and the Ice Hogs to the Chipotle-USA Hockey High School Division II National Championship in each of the last two years.
“We called him Boom Boom Brown,” Brannon said. “When he started in high school, he was more on the physical side, but every time, he found a way to control opponents.”
The sport has been growing along with Brown. Also coming to the Ice Hogs were Wyatt Flocks, James Young III and Joel Gilstrap from the Cherokee Nation.
Wherever teammates came from, they got used to traveling because the Ice Hogs play in the Mid-America High School League out of Kansas City. Other road games in the MAHSL take the Northwest team to Springfield, Missouri, and Wichita, Kansas.
In Nationals, the Ice Hogs have faced more experienced high school skaters. But the Arkansas/Oklahoma boys are moving up through the ranks.
“We got our first Arkansas win [at Nationals] last year,” Brown said. “Our goal is always to get out of pool play.”
The Ice Hogs didn’t do that this year. They lost all three games at Nationals, being outscored, 15-3.
That margin would have been greater but for Arkansas goalie Cameron Bulera, who made 51 saves against the Lincoln (NE) team that outshot the Ice Hogs, 54-14.
“Phenomenal,” Brown said.
Arkansas fans might have said it even better when Bulera reached back for a puck that he grabbed just short of the goal line.
“Save of the century,” one fan exclaimed. “ESPN stuff,” another fan said.
Lincoln had eight power play opportunities but scored on only one, when Arkansas had two skaters in the penalty box in the third period. The deficit was only 1-0 after two periods, but Adam Brown scored twice in the third for Lincoln. Eli Morrison recorded the shutout.
Seth Brown played a big part in the Ice Hogs’ penalty killing.
“Seth plays on the second line,” Brannon said. “When we need someone to kill penalties we go to him, and on special teams working in front of the net.”
Though Brown was playing at Nationals for the second time, this season was different.
“I felt like this year I really understood the game. I felt good before, but I stepped up. I got a lot more ice time. I might not be star and a goal scorer, but I can give it my all.”
And he’ll be back with the Ice Hogs for a senior season. In the meantime, Brown will be working on the farm.
“We raise and show goats,” he said, “and we have other animals, like horses, dogs and cats.”
When hockey season comes around, however, he’ll be on the ice whenever he can.
“When it’s hockey season, it’s hockey season,” he said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.