Oct 6, 2009

CORPUS CHRISTI — For those wanting proof of hockey’s foothold in Corpus Christi, Zach Goller was exhibit A on the American Bank Center ice.

He grew up going to IceRays games and on Monday morning, found himself in training camp trying out for the team, making him the first product of the Corpus Christi Youth Hockey Association to do so.

“Things are just a lot quicker — everything is a lot more serious,” Goller said after his first on-ice session. “The passes are tape to tape and guys are going 110 miles per hour. It’s a big difference,”

Goller’s bid to make the roster is a long shot, as he’s one of nine forwards vying for three open spots. But the fact Goller was even skating among professionals bucked the odds as the CCYHA has never had year-round ice, even during hockey seasons. Despite those limitations, the King High School graduate fared well enough to play the past three seasons for the El Paso Rhinos, a junior A team in the Western States Hockey League.

“That (shows) that he’s determined to be a hockey player,” IceRays coach Brent Hughes said. “He’s got some natural talent and he’s prepared and done well with the junior team he was with. I don’t think anyone would expect a kid from Corpus to be trying out for a pro team.

“It just goes to show that hockey has taken in southern states and we’ve got a kid here from Austin (Mason Cossette), too. It’s great to see a kid from Corpus here who can skate with us in training camp.”

Goller, who turned 21 in May, was primarily a roller-hockey player before 1998, when the IceRays came to town. His father Cory got him some equipment and “I jumped on and never let it go.”

“It changed my life in a major way,” Goller said. “In my spare time, I come to hockey games and when I’m working, I’m thinking about hockey. I don’t know what I would’ve done after high school if I hadn’t gone to El Paso to play. The only reason I was able to go there was because I was able to progress here in Corpus growing up.

“Hockey is my life right now and I just wanted to progress as far as I could. All of my buddies stayed here in Corpus and I don’t want to be one of those guys to stay here and not do anything. I wanted to experience something new (in El Paso) and it was well worth it. I wouldn’t take it back for anything.”

With the IceRays slated to move back to Memorial Coliseum in the next couple of years, Goller said he hopes more local players will get the same opportunity he’s received.

“Going to the Coliseum and having ice year-round will make a big difference for local kids trying to come up in the youth game,” Goller said. “They’ll have a bigger advantage and can make something happen.”