It's 6 a.m. in the dead of winter and 15 teen hockey players zip around the ice rink at Taos Youth and Family Center, plus one Ken Koch (rhymes with Coke). The air rings with supersonic puck strikes and the boards groan against pitched battles for possession. And the 43-year-old Taos Police Chief Koch loves it.
"I just can't believe what these guys can do on skates, and with a puck!" Koch said in an interview mid February.
He's been skating with the team for the past few weeks or so, up to four times a week, whenever his schedule permits. Almost a life-long hockey spectator, he never thought he'd be on the ice learning to skate with a rank and file state championship team.
But at Coach/TYFC director Brian Greer's insistence, he bought his very own pair of skates and gets on the rink almost daily, and it's beginning to show.
"We were thrilled when he came out on the ice," said Ice Tigers goalie coach Ben Gluck, (formerly a Connecticut player now relocated to Taos). "He's really come along in this amount of time."
It should be noted here that the entire coaching staff volunteers their time, it's a total labor of love for the kids and the sport that keeps them on the ice and on the road from November to March every year.
The hockey staff includes coaches Greer, Gluck, Matthew Spriggs, and Jalmar Bowden. How this southern Arizona boy ever found hockey is a wonder in itself, Koch said. Though a hockey fan since high school, he never dreamed he'd participate — "The NHL never got that far south into Arizona."
He became familiar with the Taos Youth and Family Center skating program after his appointment to Taos Police Department in late September 2012. He started on rentals at the center's Saturday morning family iceskating program and he'd only skated three or four times when he first chatted with Greer.
"Brian said if you really want to learn you should come join the hockey team during morning practice," Koch recalled. "I said oh no. But he was insistent and kept pushing me. So the first week of January I walked my butt over, bought a new pair of skates and for the last four weeks now I've been skating with them."
Since watching the kids up close on the ice, Koch said he suddenly realized that hockey has the basic things he associates with his years as a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) cop where speed, surprise and controlled use of force are keys to success.
"You have the element of speed, plus finesse, plus the controlled aggression in (body) checking," that Koch said he relates to in hockey.
While the speed and force is there in basketball, football and other pro sports, he said it seems to be even more specific to hockey for some reason.
"You're trying to win a game holding it together and playing by the rules, (like in SWAT) the constitution is the rules and the discipline and force you use to protect people's rights," Koch said.
And unlike pro hockey, there's no fighting.
"There's zero tolerance for fighting. The hits are clean and the refs do a fantastic job of controlling it."
"Guys just all look at me when I tell them, 'Yeah, I skate with the police chief every morning,' " coach Gluck says, with obvious enjoyment.
"It all came from a motivation to find a work-out program during the winter," Koch explained. "I'm an avid cyclist."
When he lived in Arizona he got deeply into mountain biking. One of his passions is the Leadville Trail 100. Known variously as the legendary "Race Across the Sky," or simply the LT100, this is an ultra marathon held on the trails and dirt roads near Leadville, Colo.
Koch said it's the hardest mountain bike race in America, climbing to between 10,000 and 13,000 feet. When training for the punishing LT100, he typically would ride 60 miles a day, five days a week — hence his need to find something to help stay in shape until the weather is good enough to ride.
"Even though (hockey) started out as a winter workout, it's now all about me interacting with the kids — I mean this from the heart. I so admire them. I'm so in awe of what they can do on skates and with a hockey stick," Koch says, then reports on his own progress.
"I can't skate backwards yet; but I have taken some shots on the net." "It's the fact that he comes out and does the work," Coach Gluck says. "You have to be dedicated and disciplined. They know what it takes. He's earned their respect."