By MORRIS MALAKOFF Kent Reporter

Add ice hockey as a spectator sport to the list of things to do on a winter night in Kent beginning this month.

On Sept. 17, the expansion team Crusaders of Kent of the Northern Pacific Hockey League, or NORPAC, will open play with a home game against the Puget Sound Tomahawks, a team based in Bremerton.

The next evening, the Kent Valley Ice Centre, which serves as home ice for the team, will host both a Crusaders game and a Western Hockey League exhibition match between the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Everett Silvertips.

“We will provide area fans with a great experience in the best arena in the league,” said Lexi Donner, operator of the Kent Valley Ice Centre. “The tickets are affordable, and we offer reasonable food prices and free parking.”

The Crusaders, a junior-level team made up of players ages 15 to 20, will play 22 home dates through February with the possibility of continuing into the playoffs. Most of the games are scheduled for weekends, with a handful of weeknight games scattered throughout the schedule.

Tickets for Crusaders games are $10 for adults, $8 for military and students and $6 for youths age 12 and under. Tickets will be sold at the arena box office and in the pro shop. Season-ticket packages will be available.

The team is owned by Tacoma resident Donna Kaufman, who is also owner of the Tomahawks. Her life in hockey began during a first date in junior high with her husband to go pick up his skates. Now, she has three sons playing at various levels, and she and her husband are active in hockey throughout the region.

“It has been a 24-hour-a-day pursuit for most of my life,” she said.

Kaufman said she decided to place a team in Kent not just because of the excellent facility, but because of the community.

“We were looking for a community that would get behind the team, feel like it has an ownership of the team,” she said. “We have been pleased with the response of the community in Bremerton with the Tomahawks, and Kent feels like a similar town.”

The team roster will be stocked with players from across the United States, including a few who have graduated from the youth programs at the Kent Valley Ice Centre. Those players from outside the area will be billeted with area families and attend area schools. Kaufman is currently seeking possible living quarters for team members.

“We need area families who would have a room for the player and would make that player a member of their family for the season,” she said.

Host families are paid a stipend by the team to cover food and general household expenses, but each player comes with his own health insurance. Transportation is provided by the team, and arrangements for attending school are taken care of when appropriate.

“There is a screening process mandated by the team and the governing association,” Kaufman said of potential host families.

Families interested in hosting players should contact Kaufman at (253) 973-1614.

NORPAC is a U.S.-based league with a 11 teams spread across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Teams are limited to only having two non-U.S. citizens on the roster. Kaufman sees the goal of the U.S. Junior program not so much to grow talent for the National Hockey League, but to develop players who will go on to collegiate programs.

“We had six players from Bremerton advance to the NCAA last year,” she said.

A complete schedule and other team information is available at www.crusadersofkent.com.

Tickets for the 6 p.m. Thunderbirds-Silvertips game on Sept. 18 are available at the pro shop at the Kent Valley Ice Centre, 6015 S. 240th St. Tickets are $12 each and must be paid for with a check or cash. Tickets to that game do not include the Crusaders’ game.

###