On any Christmas morning, children excitedly open presents, with some gifts likely featuring popular board games like Monopoly, Clue and Candy Land. But did anyone receive box hockey under the tree last December 25? If the answer is “no,” they may be missing out.
Longtime Bosque Farms resident Gene Kastelic, who now lives in New York, was back in Valencia County this spring and singing the praises of box hockey to anyone who would listen.
“It’s an emotional game, and I love to share with kids,” Kastelic said. “I knew the value of it when I was a kid.”
The table-top version is an unusual board game but is definitely not a “bored” game. One young player getting a taste this winter at Icky’s Youth Center in Belen described it as “intense.”
The original box hockey is based on ice hockey and features a “rink” that is about 8-feet long and 3-feet wide, complete with wooden sideboards. The competitors stand and use regular hockey sticks to smash the puck.
It is much larger than the box hockey table game, which Kastelic promotes. The object in both versions is to move the puck from one end to the other, one shot at a time through mouse holes in four compartments to score a goal.
The table-top adaptation uses popsicle sticks and a checker piece on a board measuring about 12 x 30 inches.
When he is in full box hockey mode, Kastelic prefers to be known as “Mean Gene,” complete with eye black and hockey sweater. Kastelic’s passion for box hockey started in 1964 in his hometown of Wauwatsoa, Wisc., a suburb of Milwaukee.
“As a kid, I think summer recreation saved my life, kept me from getting into trouble,” Kastelic said.
Box hockey was a big part of those recreation programs that had kids visiting different schools and playing in tournaments.
Kastelic appears to be the preeminent ambassador of box hockey world-wide.
“This is not played anywhere else but in Wauwatsoa and wherever I have it,” Kastelic said. “It’s not a popular game outside of Wisconsin in this form yet, and that’s why I’m working it.”
To that end, Kastelic has a slick video produced by his son on YouTube to explain the rules. The video is also a tribute to his brothers’ favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey.
The game ends when one player scores 11 goals. For Kastelic, the ultimate end-game “is to travel the world and introduce box hockey to children and families. That’s the goal. I’d love to go to Russia and have a tournament in Slovenia, Scotland and Ireland. I would love to have tournaments there.”
For now, Kastelic is just enjoying the competition and watching others, like the kids at Icky’s, learn strategy and develop skills to perfect shots like the “Swiss Bank,” and “Crossing the Caspian.”
“There’s an education in here,” Kastelic explains. “Geometry, competitiveness, maintaining your composure while you are playing. You can lose it at anytime, especially in tournament play. I think it bends your brain a little bit.”
To learn more, contact Kastelic at [email protected] or call 505-234-5845.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.