By Beau Eastes

The Bulletin

Ed Busch came to hockey later in life, waiting until he was well into his late 30s to pick up his first stick.

The 41-year-old Bend father is making up for lost time now, playing as much roller hockey as he can.

“It’s the speed,” Busch said about the allure of roller hockey. “You come off a two-minute shift and if you went hard, you’re exhausted.”

Busch was one of approximately 200 roller hockey players who participated in the 2014 Northwest Cup tournament, which concluded its three-day run Sunday at Bend’s Cascade Indoor Sports. Competing in the recreational division, Busch’s teammates and opponents were a mix of newbies like himself, old-timers who still love to play, and athletes who played hockey in their youth and were reconnecting with the sport after some time away from the game.

“I used to rollerblade as a kid and (roller hockey) always looked fun,” Busch said Sunday after finishing up a game with his Hoodoo Hodags teammates. “The rec league is great for all of us has-beens and never-will-bes.”

More than 20 youth and adult teams from up and down the West Coast and Canada filled the indoor sports arena for most waking hours during the past three days. Teams were guaranteed at least three contests in the 21st staging of the Northwest Cup, which led to a busy 22-game schedule on Saturday. The opening puck for Saturday’s final game of the day was dropped at 11:30 p.m.

“What makes this tournament so successful is that here in Bend, we’re in the middle of two hockey hubs: California and Canada,” said tournament director John Kromm. “This is a great meeting spot.

“And we’ve been working really hard the last two years to grow the sport here,” adds Kromm, who also serves as Cascade Indoor Sports roller hockey director. “If I can get a kid to come down and play just once, they’re totally hooked.”

Sunday’s final games had a decidedly family-friendly vibe. Kids played hockey in the parking lot while their parents or older brothers and sisters competed inside. One referee showed off his dance moves between periods, and players from opposing teams swapped jokes and insults with one another after their games were over.

“It’s great fun, the facility is well-run, and it’s full of good people,” said Roger Walton, 32 and of Bend, between games about this year’s Northwest Cup.

“It’s competitive and you go hard,” Walton said about playing in the rec division at the tournament, “but at the end of the game, you hope you’re still smiling.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0305; .