Hitting the ice – Junior juggles school, sports, long commute | TheUnion.com

Hitting the ice – Junior juggles school, sports, long commute

Mike Apple really wishes the NHL would get its act together.

As a lifelong hockey fan, he misses being able to come home, plop down the couch and catch some puck. But just because the NHL canceled its season doesn’t mean it’s been a long, cold lonely winter for the Nevada Union High School junior.

Apple still got his share of the game, and it had nothing to do with salary caps or concessions. He got his hockey fix by finding the back of the net with a screaming fast slapshot, dishing off an assist with a quick flick of the wrist, or delivering a bone-crunching check to stop the opponent cold.

Apple is a member of the California Gold Rush, one 14 teams competing in the South West Youth Hockey League’s Midget 18-and-under Tier-2 division.

The Gold Rush finished fifth in the league standings, which include teams from states all across the West, but won the end of season championship tournament in Salt Lake City after posting a 6-1 record.

Apple scored seven goals and set his teammates up for five more with assists in 20 games this season, but he’s listed as a defender, a position which affords him ample opportunity to enjoy his favorite aspect of the game: Hitting.

The 6-foot, 3-inch, 190-pound defender also lines up for Nevada Union’s football team each fall, though he does so on the offensive side of the ball. He played tackle last season, where he helped to plow a path for NU’s powerful rushing attack. This season he’s looking forward to making the move from tackle to tight end, a similar move made last fall by NU senior and Utah State University recruit Brennan McFadden.

“The physical similarities between (football and hockey) come down really to just the hitting part,” Apple said. “Skating is a lot different than running around out there.

“It’s such a faster game, or at least it seems faster. Football’s definitely rough and more physical.

“If I had to choose one in college? I think I enjoy hockey more, but playing football wouldn’t be bad, either. A scholarship would be nice.”

He began playing hockey in 1997, after years of rollerblading and roller hockey in the Yuba City cul de sac he and his family called home. He said when several of those kids turned 12, they came together to form a team in the Sacramento Flames junior league, played at Skatetown Ice Rink in Roseville.

His commitment to the game is clear through his commute to practices and weekend tournaments, especially in the early portion of his long season schedule on the ice, which he said begins in August and continues through February, as the Gold Rush competes in two leagues. In addition to the South West league, Apple and his teammates also are members of the Northern California Junior Hockey Association.

“It was tough (during football season) when we had (hockey) practices on Tuesday nights and Saturday nights and Sunday mornings,” he said. “Doing both (sports) means there’s kind of no rest period.

“It’s a long season.”

Don’t get him wrong, though, there’s a reason he makes such a commitment. He has a passion for the puck, something that simply means he must look outside his hometown to fulfill. And that’s fine with him.

“There’s not many hockey fans here,” he said. “Just because my parents know I play, they’re fans. They get into it because we got them interested.

“A lot of people don’t know the difference between offsides. Fans are hard to come by. San Jose has a lot just because there’s a hockey team there.”

Or, at least there used to be.

Apple said he resorted to college hockey as an alternative to the lack of an NHL season, and enjoyed watching the Michigan Wolverines, as well as the University of Denver, which he saw play on a trip to Colorado.

“It was actually nice to see another game,” Apple said. “We’ve went down to San Jose to see a lot of games, but we can’t watch those anymore.

“This has definitely opened my eyes to college hockey. I didn’t realize they were that fun to watch, until I had to.”

That said, Apple does want the San Jose Sharks and the Philadelphia Flyers, his two favorites, back on center ice as scheduled next season.

“I do,” Apple said. “I hope the NHL gets its act together.”

The Apple file

Name: Mike Apple

School: Nevada Union High School

Grade: Junior

Sports: Hockey, football

Achievements: As a defenseman for the California Gold Rush, Apple helped lead his team to tournament championship in Salt Lake City.

He scored seven goals and dished off eight assists in the course of a 20-game schedule this season.

Quote: “(Hockey is) such a faster game, or at least it seems faster. Football’s definitely rough and more physical. If I had to choose one in college? I think I enjoy hockey more, but playing football wouldn’t be bad, either. A scholarship would be nice.”

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