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Imperials an important part of the community

October 28, 2014
By Michael Sudhalter,
Why would anyone travel from the town of North Pole to Sugar Land months before Christmas?
For 20-year-old Alex Tilman, he traveled 3,768 miles one way from the small town of North Pole, Alaska to play forward for the Sugar Land Imperials, a junior hockey team that plays in the NA3HL (The North American Tier III Hockey League). “It’s definitely a change,” Tilman said. “In early September, it’s 25 degrees and about to snow in North Pole, Alaska.” Tilman said the town’s tourism revolves around Santa Claus with pet reindeer and light poles look like candy canes. 
The players in the NA3HL range from the ages of 16 to 21, and they’re not paid. In fact, they have to pay approximately $7,000 to compete in the league, and they live with several host families, whom they pay an additional $300 per month.
Many of the players have part-time jobs, either at the Sugar Land Ice & Sports Center or at grocery stores in town. Their goal is to advance to the NAHL  –the next level of junior hockey–  or to play in college.
The Imperials (3-8) opened their second season last month at their home rank, the Sugar Land Ice & Sports Center.
Their next home game is Nov. 14 against the Topeka (Kan.) Capitals.
The rink was built in the mid 1990s to house the training facilities for the Houston Aeros, a top level NHL affiliate. The Aeros moved to Iowa after the 2013 season, filling a void in the facility.
So, the owners of the rink – which includes former Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace – decided that bringing a junior hockey league team would be a good idea. It’s currently the highest level of hockey being played in the Houston area.
The Imperials have already made an impact in the community. Last weekend, the team hosted the Dallas Junior Stars and held “A Pink In the Rink” event for Breast Cancer Awareness.
The home team sported pink jerseys and auctioned them off. Along with donations, the jersey auctions raised $7,000 for The Rose, a non-profit benefiting Breast Cancer patients and survivors that also provides free mammograms to low-income women.
Later this season, the Imperials plan on sporting Camoflauge jerseys and auctioning them off after the games to benefit Tip of the Spear, a non-profit that supports military personnel and their families.
The coach is Jarod Palmer, a former Houston Aeros star who played briefly in the NHL with his hometown Minnesota Wild. Palmer also owns Palmer Hockey Clinic, a hockey school which operates at the Ice & Sports Center.
Palmer, 28, lives in Sugar Land and has worked to put together a team of 23 players, including captains – goalkeeper Chris Otap, forwards Matt Winkle and Aksel Campbell,  and defensemen Chandler Cole and Kenny Garrett. Palmer said this is a “make or break year” for many NA3HL players who often decide whether or not to keep pursuing their hockey dreams.
“I love it here when I was an Aero,” Palmer said. “We have good character in the room. Character is what I’m most impressed with. I’m interested to see how the boys face adversity.”
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