Hockey taking new form with Bikini League
Not even the creator of the Bikini Hockey League thought his idea would generate the reaction it has.
“I never dreamed in a million years that we would have this much interest in it,” league owner Cary Eskridge said. “I’m just thrilled beyond my wildest dreams.”
The notion of athletic young women playing hockey in swimwear has apparently touched a nerve, resulting in a frenzy of interest.
The Bikini Hockey League’s website received 60,000 hits within a four-hour period of the initial announcement. Interview requests have poured in, including radio-show requests from as far away as London. Numerous sponsorship and franchise inquiries have come in as well as player applications from both coasts and Canada.
While interest has mushroomed, don’t expect to see pucks and two-pieces flashing by at your nearby arena anytime soon. Eskridge, whose background is in video production, is starting with just two teams, the formation of which will be the basis for a reality show.
The pilot episode will begin filming next month in Eskridge’s hometown of Tulsa.
“We have several different networks that are interested already,” Eskridge said. “We’re not able to say who right now, but we feel like this could truly be compelling and interesting. There’s always a storyline with girls being from different areas of the country and the different personalities.”
Expansion to a full-blown league with franchises in other cities is in the talking stages. For now, Eskridge is scouting for a mansion to house the players in during tryouts, a la The Bachelor.
A more obvious comparison is the Lingerie Football League, a bras-and-shoulder-pads concept that began as a pay-per-view special during the Super Bowl halftime break and is now a series on MTV2.
“I don’t like to be compared to that, really,” Eskridge said. “It’s a totally, completely different sport. I don’t want to say anything negative, I just think this will be more compelling and engaging. But time will tell.”
The Bikini Hockey League won’t be played on ice. The games will be played using inline skates, which not only means warmer conditions for the bikini-clad players but it means the games can be played indoors or out.
In addition to being a videographer for Tulsa’s minor league hockey and arena football teams, Eskridge said he has been running inline hockey leagues since 1992. He got the idea for inline bikini hockey in 2004 during the NHL lockout when fans were in need of a hockey fix, and networks that carried hockey needed programming.
“I wanted to bring awareness to inline hockey and I thought this was the best way to do it,” Eskridge said. “This wasn’t something that was dreamed up yesterday. I’ve been in the business for 20 years filming hockey and promoting hockey.”
The lack of razor-sharp ice skates cuts down on the injury factor, but bikini hockey players will have more than halter tops to protect them during games.
Eskridge said the players will be adorned in helmets with clear face shields, elbow pads, gloves, padded compression pants and shin guards.
“They’ll be protected for sure,” he said.
Based on the applications the league has received, Eskridge will be able to choose from a considerable pool of players with varying levels of hockey experience.
One prospect is Ashley Riggs, who played collegiately and tried out for the Canadian Olympic team.
Another prospect, Candace Warn, played inline hockey on a boys’ team as a kid but is now a member of a dance team for an arena football team. Warn’s father, David, coached her as a kid and still plays inline and ice hockey himself.
“I came home from work one day and he goes, ‘Hey, have you heard about that new TV show called bikini hockey? I signed you up for it, ha ha,” recalled Warn.
Only he wasn’t joking. The Warns got a callback from Eskridge a few days later.
“It’s always been his dream for me to play hockey, but I didn’t think it would go this far,” said Warn, 20. “Now that I’m in, I’m like why not? I’m a huge hockey fan. I can’t turn this down.”
Her father obviously doesn’t have an issue with the league’s uniform.
“He’s pretty proud,” Warn said. “I don’t think he cares what I’m wearing as long as I’m playing hockey.”
Warn hasn’t played since she was 9, but isn’t worried about being able to get back to speed. She’s also not worried about losing any teeth.
“Not at all,” Warn said. “I’ve got to get some battle wounds.”
At 5-4, Warn probably won’t be an enforcer, but she isn’t afraid to mix it up.
“I can be pretty feisty,” she said.
And then there’s Ashley Van Boxmeer, who already competes in bikini fitness competitions. Van Boxmeer played college softball at Cal-State Fullerton, but her father, John, won a Stanley Cup as a player for the Montreal Canadiens and was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings.
Van Boxmeer said she’s been approached several times about playing lingerie football but it never interested her. Then a friend told her about bikini hockey.
“Hockey will perk my ears up a little bit more than normal,” Van Boxmeer said. “I’ve always wanted to play and my dad never let me.”
Having grown up around the game, Van Boxmeer doesn’t think she will have any trouble picking up the nuances of hockey. At 5-10 and with a competitive streak inherited from her hockey-playing family, Van Boxmeer sounds like she will be physical presence.
“I’m not a small girl,” said Van Boxmeer, 27. “Hey, if she wants to drop the gloves, I’m not going to say no. Don’t start something you can’t finish.”
Eskridge said filling out the rosters with players who can skate, scuffle and look good in swimwear won’t be a problem.
“We have other girls that played hockey that it turns out are very pretty, too,” Eskridge said. “Most girls that we’ve talked to have been very athletic.”
Before the 49-year-old Eskridge could begin interviewing all those young, athletic women, he first had to broach the idea of bikini hockey with his wife, Robin.
“She thought it was interesting,” said Eskridge. “She’s behind it all the way.”
Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire