Dave Inman happened to be born in southern California the year before Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League.
Inman’s hometown, San Diego, was hardly a hockey hotbed, but when his grandfather, a member of the United States Navy, became stationed in San Diego long before Inman was born, Inman’s hockey fate was sealed.
Inman, a defenseman in his first season with the Thunder, took to the sport quickly. He almost didn’t have a choice. Hockey flourished for the first time in his part of the country during Inman’s formative years, and he took his skills to Yale and then to the professional ranks.
Wichita is the 25-year-old Inman’s fourth pro stop and easily his most comfortable, since family members from his dad’s side are scatted throughout the state, from Valley Center to Udall to the Kansas City area. His grandmother lives in Wichita.
The destiny of playing hockey surrounded by a significant portion of his family is rivaled by his fitting nature of being born in southern California just as hockey began gaining popularity there.
“There’s more and more (hockey) in the southern California area, it’s becoming more and more popular,” Inman said. “Especially with the L.A. Kings winning the (Stanley) Cup just this past year, I’ve noticed a big difference. When I was growing up, I started playing in a roller hockey, ball hockey league in a local church. That was kind of the result of those Mighty Ducks movies coming out when I was a kid, and the fact that Wayne Gretzky was playing for the L.A. Kings.”
Even though San Diego wasn’t a hockey Mecca, Inman became good enough to be noticed. He played for two years under the national development team program along with several future NHL players, most notably Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Participation there led to college offers, and Inman picked Yale, moving him from California to New Haven, Conn., in an area more hockey-crazed and at a school just as serious academically. Talking to Inman makes it evident he was an Ivy Leaguer, and he managed to find a balance between school and sports while at Yale.
“Honestly, when I was growing up I always dreamt of playing college hockey,” Inman said. “I didn’t know exactly where, but once I figured out that I had at least good enough grades to compete with other hockey players that were going to these good schools, I kind of looked around and saw a lot of players that weren’t that interested in the actual school, they just wanted to go somewhere to play hockey.”
Inman’s first professional stop was New York of the Federal League, followed by one year in the ECHL and a two-year stint in Laredo, which ceased operations in the CHL following last season.
It’s safe to say Inman has been looking for a hockey home, and though he’s never lived in Wichita, it’s probably as close as he is going to get. He said he has always been close to his dad’s side of the family, now he’s making up for lost time spent with them because he finally lives in the same state.
“We’re super close,” Inman said. “…Growing up playing hockey, I wasn’t able to attend as many family functions and stuff. We were actually the only part of the family to move out west, so it was easy for all of them to get together. We came here when we could. A couple trips here last year, when I was playing for Laredo, certainly helped as well.”
Proximity isn’t the only reason Wichita is a good fit. The Thunder highlights defensemen in two ways — by acquiring many who can score and by increasing the importance of the ones who can’t. Inman, though he set a career-high with 27 points last season, has never been much of a scorer, said he gets angry even at the thought of an opponent’s goal.
That’s an intensity that belies Inman’s nature as a southern California native. As laid back as he is off the ice, Inman can summon a new level of aggressiveness on it.
“Not much really gets me off the ice,” Inman said. “I’ve just kind of learned that I have to be a little bit different on the ice. It’s something that I’ve learned to do over the years. I try to be a little more intense, not exactly as laid back.”