As the National Hockey League has spread across the South, league officials have scrambled for ways to excite the interest of fans who have never played the sport. One ploy is roller hockey.
Off-ice hockey, played on in-line roller skates with a special rubber ball, is entering its seventh season. Last year, NHL breakout tournaments for amateur players were held in 22 cities.
Roller hockey is an offspring of in-line skating, a burgeoning sport that dates to 1980. Two hockey-playing brothers in Minnesota began making in-line skates for off-season training in hockey. When Bob Naegele, an outdoor advertising executive, came upon the fledgling company (Ole's Innovative Sports) several years later, it was up for sale. Rollerblade Inc. was born and began renting in-line skates on the sidewalks of Venice, Calif.
Today, Mr. Naegele is chairman of the Minnesota Wild (see story, left), and an estimated 25 million Americans enjoy in-line skating.
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