Bam! The Olympic Spirit at a Vegas Rink

The Nevada Storm youth hockey team plays regularly at the Las Vegas Ice Center.

The Nevada Storm youth hockey team plays at the Las Vegas Ice Center.

A 13-year-old hockey player slams into the rink wall so hard it shakes the plexiglass, drawing cheers and jeers from spectators surrounding the ice.

“Now we’re playing hockey!” a man yells.

“Open your eyes, ref!” shouts a woman, pounding her hand against the glass.

It’s cold in here. Outside, it’s 70 degrees, but spectators put on their jackets as they enter the Las Vegas Ice Center for the annual Presidents’ Day Tournament, which draws dozens of teams from all over the United States. Competition is always fierce for the players, who range in age from 8 to 18 … and for their parents.

“C’mon, that was a good hit, ref!”

“He hit him from behind!”

Emotions may be running even a little higher this year because of the co-occurring Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. “Oh yeah, we’re watching the Olympic [hockey] games,” says Alma Felix, mother of a division Peewee A forward from Riverside, California. “We were up watching at 4:30 this morning.” At this point in the tournament, her son’s team of 11-year-olds, the Los Angeles Jr. Reign, are 2-1.

It smells like sweat and snack-bar hot dogs, and the sound of skate blades scraping the ice is constant. The two-rink venue is packed full of kids pulling gear bags as big as they are and parents wrapped in blankets sporting team logos. Midway through the tournament, the Nevada Storm Peewee B (12- and 13-year-olds) leads Cal Wave-East 5-3 in the third period. A player checks another into the wall. The men standing nearby cheer, then return to their conversation:

“The Russians looked terrible today,” says one. “They barely beat Slovakia.”

“After that freaking devastating game against the U.S. [Russia lost 3-2 in a shootout], they probably had so much vodka they were still suffering,” says another.

Bam! A Cal Wave kid slams into the wall. He slaps the puck down ice toward the Nevada goal, but it’s too late—the clock runs out: The Storm wins, 6-3.