playing with the PROS

The Rainones of Parkland take to the ice in South Florida

By Michelle F. Solomon

Rich Rainone recalls about five years ago when he was packing up to move his family to South Florida from Rhode Island. “I had hockey equipment, and I threw it in the dumpster because I never thought I’d use it.” It turns out, Florida offered even more hockey opportunities than Rich and his family realized.

In 2012, Rich began Whip Hockey, the first all-female line of hockey equipment. “There were golf clubs for boys and girls, tennis rackets for boys and girls, but no hockey sticks for girls,” he says.

Meanwhile, Rich’s two sons, Bennett, 11, and David, 9, live and breathe the sport. Both play in the Florida Jr. Panthers league, and Rich serves as assistant coach for David’s team.

“Hockey is my passion,” says Bennett, unprompted, who adds that he was 6 years old when he got interested in the sport. “I saw my first NHL game at the BB&T Center. The Florida Panthers were playing, and that’s when I fell in love with hockey.”

To add to the intrigue, the family lived on the same street as two Panthers players—David Booth and Mikael Samuelsson.

Also living in their neighborhood: a boy named Mason, who was a year older than Bennett and whose father happened to be Marco Sturm, a former NHL player and current coach of the German national team. Sturm was with the Panthers for one year and played on five other NHL teams before ending his career in Deutsche Eishockey Liga, a top hockey league in Germany. “Marco was coaching Mason’s team; Bennett tried out and he made it,” Rich says. “He was able to work with Marco as his coach for a year.”

Two-time Stanley Cup champion Petr Sýkora, a Parkland resident who won titles with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, is currently David’s coach. “Just them having that training and them playing street hockey with Petr Sýkora and Marco Sturm, it’s surreal,” Rich says.

The boys also are training at the South Florida Hockey Academy, the Coral Springs-based program founded by Sýkora and four other former NHL players: Olli Jokinen, Tomáš Vokoun, Radek Dvo?ák and Mikko Saarni.

Sýkora says it was necessary to have a place like the academy to train kids like Bennett and David, who want to take their games to the next level. His 9-year-old son, Nicholas, plays hockey on the Junior Panthers team as well. “It’s not about the games,” says Sýkora. “Parents want the kids to play in all the tournaments, but they need to have ice time to practice. There’s a process we teach them that they need to learn—how to skate, how to handle the puck. They need to have training, and we know how to do it.”

Bennett and David’s mother, Keri, says she’s been amazed since moving to South Florida at what’s available for her children, especially when it comes to hockey. “Growing up in Rhode Island, you didn’t really have major sports athletes living next door to you,” she says. “My kids are so fortunate to have an opportunity like the Hockey Academy. They get trained by skilled athletes that have years of experience and knowledge. The coaches can look at a child and know immediately what they need to work on and hone in on those skills.”

Keri says moving to Parkland also has helped her become more physically active. She takes yoga classes and runs three to four times a week. David frequently joins her on Saturday mornings for the outdoor yoga at Pine Trails Park. “He enjoys it, and he’s good at it,” she says.

Hockey, however, is the athletic thread that binds this family. “Believe it or not, in our bedroom we have an extra area where we have two small floor hockey nets,” she says. “We all play knee hockey using mini sticks.”

The boys, students at Park Trails Elementary School, both have aspirations to be professional hockey players.

“If they continue to play through high school and can get college scholarships, that would be amazing,” Keri says. “Beyond that, who knows what could happen.”

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