Sam Armitage casts a long shadow with the scorching Texas sun high above him and grasshoppers jumping past him on the prairie in rural Wise County.
The baked ground beneath his 6-7, 250-pound frame looks and feels a million miles from the chilling ice of a hockey rink where the 17-year-old excels. The Decatur teen recently signed to play as a defenseman for the Texas Brahmas Junior A Tier III squad in the Midwest Division of the Western States Hockey League.
“I’m basically jumping three skill levels,” said Armitage about the move from youth hockey to the juniors.
“Hopefully I can get a college scholarship. I’ll be getting a lot of attention with this team.”
With his height and location far from a hockey hotbed, few would suspect his skills and ability on the ice. Instead he’s asked frequently about his ability at another indoor sport – basketball.
“It’s probably every day,” Armitage said.
He’s usually met with blanked stares when he says he’s a hockey player.
“They just look at me,” he explained. “A lot of people don’t know.”
Armitage grew up with the game and has been on the ice for 13 years.
“My dad watched a lot of hockey and introduced me to the game,” he said. “I loved it.”
Unlike a lot of players from the south, he didn’t begin with roller or in-line hockey as he immediately started skating on the ice.
The game’s speed and physical nature immediately stuck with him.
“I like the physicality, and it’s more fast-paced than football and the other sports,” Armitage said.
He’s not had much trouble with being physical as he’s always been the biggest player on the ice. His mother, Diane, said he was 11 pounds at birth and has always been taller than his peers.
“He’s never had a growth spurt,” Diane said. “It’s been a continual growth almost four inches a year.”
Many of his peers on the ice are under 6-1. Only five inches shy of 7 feet, Armitage has a lot farther to fall to the ice.
“I’ve hurt my tailbone, got a concussion and broke a thumb from falling,” he said.
While the sport is physical and fast, his mother isn’t too worried about her son getting injured.
“He’s really only had two injuries,” she noted.
Living just north of Decatur, there’s not many hockey rinks or teams close to the Armitages. The past two years, Armitage played in Allen and before that he was in Irving. This year, he’ll be commuting to North Richland Hills several times per week.
“Our little Jetta has 270,000 miles,” Diane said. “Most of those are hockey miles.”
The family has made some sacrifices over the years to meet the cost of travel to get Sam to games and practices.
“It’s expensive, but we’ve always told our children that we’ll help support their passions as long as they work hard,” Diane said.
Her son has taken note of those sacrifices and hopes he can turn his passion into a professional career to compensate his parents.
“I’d like to be able to go pro and pay my parents back for everything,” Armitage said.
The Brahmas’ season will start at the end of September. To get ready for the season, Armitage is headed to Littleton, Colo., for a week-long conditioning camp. Several scouts from colleges and upper tiers of junior hockey will be at the camp.
Standing almost 7-foot tall on his skates, Armitage will be hard for any scout to miss.
“Like his coach said, he’s got one thing you can’t teach – size,” Diane said.