Player of the Month

December: Vincent Pugliese

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Vincent was born on August 23, 2012. Growing up, he watched his older sister play sports from the sidelines and always wanted to join. So, when Vincent was old enough to play, we put him in baseball and soccer. He liked both but for the most part, could take it or leave it. It wasn’t until he begged us to buy him a small plastic hockey stick set that he became obsessed with hockey. He played with that stick every day even as it broke he would wrap it in tape until finally giving up on it. From then on, he turned everything in the house into a hockey stick. Once, he unscrewed the kitchen broom and taped a cardboard end on it to play. His dad and I knew he loved hockey, but living in the high desert had no idea where to start or if it would even be possible.

Then, we saw that the Desert Ice Castle had a “Try Hockey for Free” day. On January 12, 2019, Vincent put on hockey gear and ice skates for the first time. We both warned him before getting on the ice to take it slow, knowing it was his first time. He shocked us with how well he skated and played. But it was the look on his face when he got off the ice that told us everything we needed to know. Hockey was here to stay. 

Not knowing where to start, we contacted the Desert Blaze Hockey Director, Jeff Larson. He told us that the season was almost over but that he could put together some gear for Vincent if he wanted to play next season. It was amazing to have help getting Vincent started, and still today, we are so grateful for the supportive hockey families and coaches from the Desert Ice Castle that we’ve met along the way.

While waiting for tryouts, a friend told us to try in-house. Vincent did one session of in-house and loved it. And to my surprise, we were somehow making it work practically living at the rink 3x a week with three kids. We bought Vincent rollerblades after joining in-house that even today, he would sleep in if I let him. As soon as he gets home from school, he is in his rollerblades playing hockey until I drag him in to eat or go to bed. After his in-house session, he joined the Desert Blaze kids for spring hockey. Once spring hockey was over, he practiced every day until tryouts. I’ve never seen a smile so big on his face then the day I told him he made the mites 8u team. Even though a few of the kids on the team played last year and were older, he fit in right away with all the boys. He looks forward to every practice and game where he can play with his team.

He works hard both on and off the ice to be the best hockey player and friend to everyone he meets. Hockey has completely taken over to the point that it is all he watches, thinks, and talks about. He loves the Anaheim Ducks and dreams of one day playing in the NHL. At school, his teacher tells us how she enjoys all of his hockey stories. He’s even started putting his name on the top of his school papers as Vincent P. #67 and draws the hockey rink on the back if he gets any free time.

To say that hockey changed his life is an understatement, he is so focused and determined it’s hard to believe he is only seven years old. We can’t wait to see where hockey takes him!

Player of the Month

November: Delaney Boynton

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 Delaney was born on a cold winter’s day in southern Vermont. She was active from birth and loved all thing sports, and she could always be found cartwheeling in the yard or kicking a soccer ball. When she was 5-years-old, we moved from Vermont to Nashville, Tennessee to escape the brutal winters; ironically, after we left the cold, Delaney found hockey.

Her first introduction to skating was in June of 2018. Delaney attended a “Learn to Skate” program at a nearby hockey rink. Instantly, she was hooked. She started hockey in July of the same year, and it seemed like everything just clicked. For the next two months, she practiced constantly, and her improvement was rapid. She had truly found her passion.

Nashville is a hockey city. With the resident NHL team, the Nashville Predators, becoming a strong competitor for the Stanley Cup within the last few years, hockey is a rapidly growing sport in the area. This growth translates to women’s hockey as well. Nashville is home to many current and retired women’s hockey stars, such as players from the U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams and European professional leagues. Delaney was lucky enough to train under these professionals, giving her the beginnings of a strong foundation as a girl in hockey.

After we moved to the Coachella Valley, we found Desert Ice Castle (DIC) in October of 2018. Somehow, we had managed to get even farther away from the natural cold, but Delaney’s love of hockey had grown even more. Delaney began skating in the In House Hockey program and fell in love with it. She was surrounded by amazing coaches and players, as well as a community of supportive parents. She enjoyed every minute.

Thanks to Desert Ice Castle, Delaney’s skills have grown substantially. Desert Ice Castle and their hockey program is wonderfully comprehensive. She has improved significantly in all elements of the sport, and she continues to do so every day she skates at DIC. In Nashville, Delaney was often the only girl on the ice. Here, in contrast, Delaney has met and skated with other girls, something we are very excited about. She loves the ability to play with both boys and girls of different ages, with the In House league.

We returned to Nashville for a brief visit in the summer of 2019. Delaney visited her old coaches and rink for a practice, and the coaches were impressed with how much she had improved. They were happy with her holistic knowledge of hockey and commended DIC for their training, programs, and staff.

Now, Delaney hopes to play hockey for the rest of her life. She has become a good team member and athlete, and it is inspiring to watch her journey. We are very thankful to Desert Ice Castle for all they have provided for Delaney in her training, as they have been pivotal in Delaney’s love for the sport. Hockey is what brings Delaney her greatest joy, and we can’t wait to see where she goes.


Player of the Month

October: Hayden Loutsenhizer

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Hayden Loutsenhizer was born on October 9, 2004. As a child, Hayden was lost. He was constantly getting into trouble for little things at school and his grades were mediocre. As parents, we knew that we had to get Hayden into something that he cared about, or we feared he would get into trouble as he got older. Although Hayden showed interest in many things, nothing stuck and he lost interest quickly.

One day, Hayden went on a field trip to Riverside Ice Town where he had a quick lesson on skating during an open ice session. When he came home, he told us how much fun he had and that he wanted to play ice hockey. Knowing that he did not know how to skate on the ice, and we lived in the Coachella Valley, we were not quick to react to this new found interest of his. As Hayden persisted, we thought we would at least look into what was available locally. I heard about the Desert Ice Castle opening up in Cathedral City and found that they were offering a ‘Try Hockey for Free’ day, so we went down to check it out.

It was October 2011, and hockey season already started. We were given loaner gear for him that day and he hit the ice. Although he had no clue what he was doing, he was very intent on listening to the coaches and the smile on his face never went away. Afterwards, we spoke with the Director of Desert Blaze, Jeff Larson, to see what we could do to get him prepared for the next season. Jeff told us not to worry about the lack of his abilities and to come to the Mites practice to talk with the coach and do an informal try out, as they still had openings even though the season had started. Long story short, we were given the opportunity to be part of the Desert Blaze Mites Inaugural Season in Cathedral City, CA.

We were excited for the opportunity, but also found out quickly that this was going to be a huge commitment and investment on our part. Our son did not have a great track record of sticking to extracurricular activities, but we decided to try it out and signed him up. The hockey club loaned him gear temporarily until we were able to purchase gear for him, which, again, we were not prepared for. Unbeknownst to us, Hayden had overheard my husband and I discussing our hesitation and concerns for the mounting costs when Hayden came to us with all his saved‐up money from his birthday, totaling just under $200.00, telling us that he would pay for all his gear himself so he could play. This small action coming from a seven‐year‐old boy, was what I needed that day to give me some kind of confirmation that this was something he was really serious about.

The day we signed Hayden up for hockey season was a life changing event for my son and our family. This was the only thing that Hayden cared about. He was working hard on the ice, respected his coaches and teammates, and his attitude completely changed. We told him that he had to perform well in school or there would be no hockey practices or games, and it worked! Hockey began to transform my son in the most positive of ways.

Over the years, Hayden has been part of amazing experiences with different hockey teams and clubs such as Desert Blaze, Wildcats, Orange County and Empire. Learning to work under different coaches and with different teammates has taught him social diversity. Working with a team and playing in literally every position has taught him the game of hockey. Knowing that there is always something you can improve on, challenging your teammates and yourself to strengthen each other’s weakness, and having fun is the core of this great game.

While Hayden has won championships, tournaments, and scored hat tricks, he has also learned what it is like to lose and what it means to be supported by your teammates when things do not go the way you imagined. In March of 2018, during a double‐header weekend, Hayden broke his arm during the Saturday game in Santa Barbara. Not only did his teammates visit the emergency room after the game,


but so did others from the opposing team. We were able to get him splinted up for the ride home, but all Hayden cared about was getting to his game the next day in Yorba Linda. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it given his condition and the drive, but his persistence wouldn’t let up. We arrived at the game just as his team finished warming up and the game was about to start. When his teammates saw Hayden come in and stand next to his bench in support, they were elated and yelled through the glass that they were playing this game for him. His team won 7‐1. Hayden was not able to play in the play‐off games that season with his team, but he was adamant that he needed to be at every game in support of his team, and we were.

Our family has met some wonderful people along this hockey journey, and even though the kids may not all play for the same club anymore, or in the same division, they all remain friends, even when playing as opponents. Hayden has also met some great NHL hockey players along the way that have inspired him to continue to work hard towards his goals in hockey and in life.

Hayden is now entering his eighth season in youth hockey. He will be turning 15 years old this month and is currently playing Right Wing and Center for the Empire Hockey Club out of Ontario, CA in the (Midget) 16U AA Division. He is an amazing young man that is compassionate about others, respectful of adults, doing great as a new Freshman at Palm Desert High School, and is balancing both his schoolwork and out of town travel like a champ. It is not always easy for a young adult to have a schedule like we do, but the dedication and passion he has for this sport truly amazes me every day and I can’t be prouder of who he has become and what he will accomplish in his future.