Hockey isn't the first, or even the second, sport most Wichita-area youths consider playing. There's not much around here screaming ice, ice skates and pucks.
But when Brandt Mueller was a toddler, he nagged his parents to let him play. His dad, Keith, still isn't sure why that passion ignited.
More than a decade after first playing hockey, Mueller's a senior at Andover and plays left wing for the Wichita Warriors, a club hockey team based at the Wichita Ice Center.
"I actually do love it," Mueller said. "I love how different it is from all the other sports, and the fact that it reminds me a little of every sport."
The Warriors' varsity team is made up of high school players from Wichita and the surrounding towns. They have two home games this weekend, playing host to St. Joseph (Mo.) at 1:45 p.m. Saturday and 9:45 a.m. Sunday. Both games are at the Ice Center.
The team is "quite a bit off the radar," said Mike Galvan, who is in his third season coaching the Warriors. "All the people see and hear (about hockey) here is the Wichita Thunder. A lot of people haven't even heard about the ice rink."
Hockey is not a sport monitored by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
High school hockey isn't a new phenomenon. Wichita had two high school teams about eight years ago when it had the Wichita Wind and the Wichita Junior Thunder.
But there isn't much of a following for the high school team.
Then again, playing high school hockey in Kansas isn't like it is in northern states, where hockey is a state championship sport and draws hundreds or thousands of fans.
Mueller expects a handful of friends in the stands with the teams' parents. And that's only for home games.
There also isn't a deep pool of hockey athletes to choose from, so the talent levels can vary drastically.
There are players like Mueller and Travis Anderson, a Maize senior, who have played since they were youngsters. Then there are others with much less knowledge.
"In basketball, they're running plays in fourth or fifth grade," Keith Mueller said. "They're not teaching to run.... The coaches here have to work so much time in to learning how to skate."
It's difficult to balance the coaching.
"Some of these kids might have a chance to play outside of Wichita," said Billy Walsh, a Warriors coach. "You can't slow it down for them, but you want the other kids to get the same information."
There's also the cost of hockey. Ice time isn't cheap, and neither are the uniforms, which include pads. But the biggest cost is travel.
The closest teams the Warriors play are in Kansas City, three hours away.
"The challenge is to find competition," Mueller said. "We have to travel anywhere to find competition. That's been that way since they were old enough to skate if they wanted more than the house league, intramural-type stuff.
"The closest we play is Kansas City, the farthest is Chicago."
The Warriors compete in the Mid-America High School Hockey League, which formed this year.
Teams in the league include Rockhurst (Kansas City, Mo.); St. Joseph; Jefferson City, Mo.; and a north Kansas City team.
The Warriors have played in Springdale, Ark., and will travel to Springfield, Mo., after the winter break. They played in a Dallas tournament early this month, too.
Most every weekend, the Warriors leave Wichita at 7 a.m. on Saturday for two games and return about 7 p.m. Sunday.
Traveling every weekend can get old, but the players enjoy staying in hotels, hanging out together.
"I think that's a good part," Anderson said. "Since we travel a lot, we do get looks from juniors coaches. We get to travel and have a good time and ... stay at really nice hotels.
"When the other sports play, they travel to Salina and come back the same night. We go to Chicago for a five-day trip and play hockey and enjoy ourselves."