Ice hockey is not a sport that is typically associated with the Valley. Sure, fans exist, but with a lack of snow and rinks in the area most enthusiasts with a desire to play are relegated to using roller blades on black top.
That’s exactly how Kellen Ireland got started around the age of three; playing in the street with his family. The Irelands — long time San Jose Sharks fans—saw hockey as a family affair. Father Michael shared and spread his love of the sport with Kellen and his two sisters, Macie and Kaitlyn, and before long the three siblings made the transition from the street to the ice rink as part of the Stockton Polar Bears.
“My dad got me into it when I was little. It was fun and I got really into it,” Kellen said.
“I started playing hockey as a young adult. He would always go to the games with me, so I think that’s where he developed his interest,” Michael said. “Whether it was ice or roller, he loved being there. It’s part of his DNA.”
While Kellen relished his time on the ice, circumstances brought about an abrupt end to his passion in 2005 when the Stockton rink closed for close to a year. With ice hockey on pause, Kellen’s sisters were drawn into the world of travel soccer, leaving the young boy in a state of hockey limbo. Since his parents’ time was being spent driving Macie and Kaitlyn to and from soccer matches, Kellen was forced to once again strap on his roller blades and play hockey sans ice for four years.
“I missed it a lot. I always wanted to play, but my parents didn’t have a lot of time,” Kellen said. “I was real happy when I got to play again.”
Unlike his sisters, Kellen never strayed from hockey. He returned to organized ice hockey in 2009 where he played a year in the Pee Wee division and another in the Bantam division for the Stockton Colts. As a freshman at Turlock High, Kellen continued to pursue his passion for hockey, joining the Tri-Valley Blue Devils in April 2012 for spring season. Though he decided to join the Bulldog tennis team, Kellen kept his focus on hockey as he led his team with 41 points—26 goals and 15 assists—and helped the Blue Devils complete an undefeated winter season and earn a spot in the upcoming Bantam A California Amateur Hockey Association State Tournament.
“All those other sports were really boring to me. I like fast action, that’s why I stuck with hockey,” Kellen said. “Scoring goals and hitting people against the boards is always fun.”
The three day CAHA State Tournament begins on Friday with the Blue Devils hosting the California Heat on Sharks ice. Not only will Kellen be playing for a championship but he will also be playing for memories as it will be his last time playing for the Blue Devils before he joins the Golden State Elite AAA Midget 16 team out of San Mateo.
“We want to work really hard, get to the puck first, score, and win,” Kellen said of his championship strategy.