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SOAHA athlete Steve Powell at the Rrrink on Sunday, July 24, 2011.

Change of scenery

On Sundays, Steve Powell and Mike Turturici get in Turturici's 2008 Toyota Tacoma and drive from Klamath Falls to Medford.

On their way to The RRRink, where they play in a new adult hockey league, the two listen to music or talk, mostly about their favorite professional teams, last weekend's hockey match or that day's contest. Sometimes, Turturici points out mountains and lakes to his nephew, a 19-year-old who moved here from Pennsylvania about four months ago.

Southern Oregon is a different planet to Powell, but one that the Delaware County, Pa., native welcomes after he, like many teenagers, found himself searching for purpose. Powell graduated last year from Ridley High in Folsom, Pa., which is about a 15-minute drive from Philadelphia. The outgoing teenager worked with his father Daryl in the construction business for about six months before deciding that he needed a change of scenery — he'd seen the beaches and boardwalks of the East many times and knows the directions to the two rinks near his home by heart.

"Seeing the same thing every day and doing the same thing every day," Powell says. "I needed to clear my head."

He expected that the trade-off for moving West would be losing the sport he grew up with, but even in this unfamiliar place, there was the familiarity of hockey. The Southern Oregon Adult Hockey Association is a locally sponsored hockey organization that offers a summer league at The RRRink. It is made up of players of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds.

"I came out here to get a fresh start, figure out what I want to do with my life," Powell says. "I'm only 19 and I wasn't going to college. I was kind of getting into trouble back home, making stupid decisions. I could tell I was doing little things that could lead to more things.

"I wasn't going down the right path."

But now he seems to be finding his way, especially on the ice. Through five matches, Powell leads the four-team league in goals (15) and scoring (19) while playing for Ashland-based Beasy's On The Creek, which owns a league-best 4-1 record.

Powell's not the only transplant suiting up here, either. League president Richard Hobbins, who is from Madison, Wis., says the SOAHA is replete with hockey-loving folks who are originally from back East.

Hobbins — a 45-year-old Talent Middle School mathematics teacher — and a small group of other hockey fans created the summer league in June. It will run for 10 weeks, with a championship game set for the first week of September.

Each team plays one match every Sunday night. Around 55 people are participating and about 120 are expected to compete in the upcoming fall-winter season, Hobbins says.

Players come from all walks of life, from carpenters and teachers to police officers and doctors. There are men and women, and players range in age from 18 to 68.

The other teams in the league are Bella Union (Jacksonville), Jackson Creek Pizza Co. (Medford) and Cruickshank ENT (Medford).

"We have a great community of hockey players who live in Southern Oregon," Hobbins says.

Count the 5-foot-81/2, 175-pound Powell as one of them. He lives with his uncle Mike Turturici, step-aunt Danielle Turner and 8-year-old step-cousin Mia in Klamath Falls and works at Sky Lakes Medical Center as a patient safety assistant.

"I'm taking it serious," Powell says of his job. "I'd like to pursue something in the medical field. I'm taking advantage of the decision to come here."

Powell says he hasn't been able to find a suitable cheese steak in Southern Oregon to save his life, but having hockey adds some familiar flavor to his existence. He's played since he was 6 years old and competed on organized teams in middle school and high school. Since Powell was 16, he always played defense. But here, he's mostly on the offensive side.

He seems to be doing just fine there, though he won't toot his own horn.

"Where I'm from, hockey is a big thing on the East Coast," he says. "It's a lot bigger there and a lot more popular. The competition is definitely a lot higher. There are some good players. If I was in a league back where I was from, I wouldn't be leading the league."

Powell shares a team with Turturici, a former Pennsylvanian who often referees matches. Turturici is the reason that Powell is playing, Powell says. They grew up together, and Turturici coached him when he was younger.

The two visited The RRRink for some drop-in hockey sessions initially and soon found out about the league.

"One thing led to another and we signed up for it," Powell says.

Even with several Southern Oregon Spartans participating in the league, everyone takes the Sunday meetings mostly as a chance to have some fun, Powell says. Beasy's On The Creek does not practice.

"It's a summer league so we don't take it really serious," Powell says. "We all just enjoy playing."

So how physical do the matches get?

"They don't want you to hit," Powell says. "You can bump."

And what's next for Powell? He hopes to continue his productive routine of working at the hospital, exercising at a local gym and possibly taking on some college courses down the road.

And when the weekend rolls around, he'll look forward to the drive to Medford and his return to hockey.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

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