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California Dreaming

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Avalanche defenseman Ray Macias has been on skates since the age of three; just not the type of skates most NHL players get their start with.

A Long Beach, Calif., native who made his NHL debut on Wednesday against the Phoenix Coyotes, Macias didn’t get his start on hockey states, or even inline blades like many of his West Coast peers. Instead, at the age of three, Macias’ mother strapped him into a pair of speed skates and let him loose on the ice.

“People always tell me I’m a good skater, so I’m happy she did that,” said Macias. “You use longer skates in speed skating, so it helped me develop a longer stride and made me a good skater.”

After first developing his skating skills, Macias took the next step and began playing ice hockey at the age of five. It wasn’t until a few years later, around the time he was seven years old, that he took up inline hockey like many of his counterparts from California.

When Macias suited up on Wednesday, he became the second California native to wear an Avalanche uniform (former Av Scott Parker, born in the city of Hanford, was the first).

And when the puck dropped, Macias had one special guest in the crowd.

His mother, Helen, received the news of Ray’s upcoming debut while she was in Pittsburgh with her Midget AAA team, which was competing in the USA Hockey National Championships. Immediately, she booked a flight to Denver in order to support her son.

“She was really excited to watch me play my first NHL game and to see me after,” said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound defenseman. “It gave me an extra boost for the game, seeing my mother in the stands.”

Breaking Tradition
The term “non-traditional hockey market” seems to pop up each time a player from a warm-weather state makes it to the NHL, although that phrase is quickly becoming a misnomer. Due to the growth of the sport across the U.S., states like California are churning out more and more NHL caliber players each year.

Macias isn’t the first Californian to make it to the NHL, and he certainly won’t be the last. Yet some people hold on to old biases that the overall talent level in those states isn’t quite up to the standards of the more traditional “hockey hotbeds,” like Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota.

For his part, Macias is glad to be one of many players proving those naysayers wrong.

“People thought of California like that for the longest time, but what can you do?” said Macias. “We’ve proved to them, and added to it with my debut the other night, that anyone can have a chance to play in this league.”

According to T.J. Hensick, a Michigan native, good players will get recognized these days regardless of where they play.

“A couple years ago that wasn’t the case. You might fall under the radar if you weren’t from a state where hockey is really big. You might have to move to a place like Michigan or Minnesota to get scouted,” said Hensick. “Growing up, I played with kids from all over that came to Michigan to play Triple A hockey. Now it seems like they can stay at home, play in their own leagues and still get a chance to move on to the next level.”

Filling in Nicely
Colorado’s defensive corps has suffered numerous injuries lately, making Macias part of a very young blue line. In Wednesday’s game, Scott Hannan and John-Michael Liles were the only two veteran defensemen in a unit that featured rookies Wes O’Neill, Derek Peltier, Mike Vernace and Macias.

“It’s an interesting situation, but it’s an opportunity for those guys to take advantage of open playing time,” said Liles, who was in the starting lineup against Phoenix as Macias’ defensive partner. “The last few years we haven’t had a ton of injuries to defensemen and there haven’t been a lot of new faces. It’s a good opportunity and I think these guys have proven themselves pretty well so far.”

Macias became the ninth Colorado player to make his NHL debut this season when he took to the ice against the Coyotes. That number broke the previous Avalanche record of eight NHL debuts in a single season, set during the 1998-99 campaign.

“It was just a lot of excitement, playing my first game and all,” said Macias. “Being out there with the greatest players in the world was a great experience, and hopefully there’s more to come.”
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