Hockey practice at Polar Ice Chandler took a backseat to a bigger priority Wednesday evening: Team USA.
The 2010 Vancouver games are sparking Olympic dreams even in the Arizona desert.
Members of the boys hockey team took breaks from practice and gathered chairs around one of many televisions in the ice rink's lobby to cheer on the men's team as it beat Switzerland to advance to Friday's semifinals.
Trish Price's 10-year-old son has played hockey since age 4. This year, Price said, her son understands the idea of "USA vs. the world."
"He's really sat down and watched the Olympics. He knows that's pretty big. He didn't know before that it was the different countries (playing each other)," she said.
Terry Mchugh moved his family from upstate New York to Arizona, but not before putting a hockey stick in the hands of his then 2-year-old.
It wasn't until his son was 7 that he started hockey lessons, making him one of the older boys on the team, Mchugh said.
"In Arizona, the hockey community is a tight community," Mchugh said. "At Coyotes games you see people you know. There's a hard-core but small community in Arizona."
Juliana Kenny, director of skating at Chandler Polar Ice, said registration has picked up with the Olympics, especially in the "learn to skate" program.
"This month, throughout February, we've had people signing up for our classes," Kenny said, even though the session started before the Olympics.
Children as young as 2 are taking to the ice.
"Mostly it's people coming in and saying they want to learn to skate. How do they get started?" she said.
The rink opened 11 years ago, but Kenny joined the staff four years ago - another Olympic year.
"I think when you watch it on TV, skating is beautiful. Hockey is so exciting to watch, and it's pretty big in Arizona," she said.
Ahwatukee Foothills mother Elana Kaminski has three skaters in her family. The family started at the Polar Ice Chandler rink with karate lessons in a studio in the rink's lobby. But her son, then 3, saw the boys playing hockey and wanted to give it a try.
All three kids, now 8, 5 and 4, took skating lessons about a year ago. Her two daughters are figure skaters while her son spends three days a week playing hockey.
The Olympics have been fun for the family to watch, Kaminski said, because the kids are seeing their sports on television on the biggest stage there is.
"My daughters are really into watching the ice skaters, of course. They're kind of mesmerized by the costumes and the crowds watching them," she said. "Because of my husband, my son is very much into watching the USA team hockey. They think it's neat they're watching stuff on TV they're doing."
Polar Ice Gilbert opened in the fall of 2008 and has also seen its numbers go up, said skating director Uyen Nguyen.
"I think there will be more of an interest from people who don't know we're here," Nguyen said of the Olympics. The ice center is located near a neighborhood off Greenfield Road.
The arena, like its sister Chandler location, offers "learn to skate" programs as well as advanced classes, hockey lessons and hockey team events.
Even adults seem to be picking up the Olympic fever, Nguyen said.
"Saturday I had a class of 10 adults. That's amazing. Adults are more shy. They're not going to want to put themselves out there, but we have great parents here and great adults who want to try it out," she said.
The U.S. women's hockey team lost to Canada on Thursday in the gold-medal game. The American men play Finland on Friday for a chance to advance to the gold-medal game.
Ladies figure skating concluded Thursday night, but no Americans were on the medal podium for the first time since 1984.
Americans have already medaled in several skating events, though. Evan Lysacek took the gold in men's figure skating and Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the silver in ice dancing.