The Joy of Beer League Hockey

Today is like no other day.  Days like today only happen a few times a month and each time it causes me to count seconds on the clock till it hits 5pm. Today is a day when I feel like I am back in school on a late spring day where you just cannot wait to leave and go play with your friends. Today is circled on my work colander. Today is the day my girlfriend knows to make plans with her friends, instead of me.

Today is hockey day.

I love hockey almost to a scary degree. I buy the Center Ice Package to be able to watch every game, every day, and enjoy watching specific match-ups or play pairings from different teams. I am in a competitive hockey fantasy league where we get together every year in my friend’s basement with beers and have a 6-hour NHL fantasy draft – no really, it’s fun, I swear. Oh, and we have a trophy, too.

My favorite time of the year is spring. Not only because my birthday is in April, but because playoffs start. I write about hockey, talk about it, and the summer sometimes turns out to be the worst season for me because…baseball.  But thankfully during summer I can still play hockey and today just happens one of those specials days.

Today is hockey day.

Playing hockey in America almost always puts you in the minority. Nine out of ten people do not play hockey and never have in their lives, which is why I guess it feels so special to be a hockey player. It is like being part of that elite club where you and a select few know the little things – those special moments that occur inside the game. Some call them the unwritten rules or special nuances.  Consider some of these:

  • you know there is a price to pay if  you want to stand in front of the net
  • you know that no matter how violent and disrespectful the chirping gets, you always line up to shake the hand at the end of the game
  • all those little things that help you win a faceoff
  • how to use the boards as a rear-view mirror when chasing the puck in the corner
  • how to give a winger who is trying to get around you a slight push on the hip to make him reconsider his speed and balance

These are the little things that make the game special and only you and your friends know about them and appreciate them. It is like having a favorite band that no one has heard on the radio yet.  That is likened to the special feeling of excitement that you get on each game day.

Today is hockey day.

I sit here taping my stick while saying to myself, “This is my stick. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My stick is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my stick is useless. Without my stick, I am useless. I must shoot with my stick true. I must shoot straighter than my opponent, who is trying to score. I must score before he scores. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my stick and myself are defenders of my team, we are the masters of our opponent, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until the game is won, but peace. Amen.”

A stick is very personal. You can ask every seasoned hockey player about a stick and you will get unique answers. Some guys care more than others, but in the end it is your tool. You get attached to it and you get mad when one breaks. Nothing makes me want to hurt the other team’s player like when he slashes on my stick. After a while you will always want to carry two sticks to each game you go to.

Today is hockey day.

I am a beer league hockey player and I am helluva proud of it. We do not get paid and do not have equipment endorsements. We play simply because we love it. Our team exists because we share a passion for the game and this unites us. We stand up and protect each other. The game and the team is more important than the pain and sacrifice. We play to win, to have fun, and hang out with the boys. Nothing tastes better than a cold one after a hard fought game.  Everyone pushes each other and you know if you mess up or slack up that you will be hearing about it all week. You spend the entire time waiting for next game to come to go ahead and redeem yourself.

Today is hockey day.

Nothing beats the smell of the ice rink and if you’ve played, you know exactly what I mean.  The big arenas do not have it. Only the ice rinks with tiny bleachers that are mostly empty and are used for practice and beer leagues have that smell. The locker room – the time spent here is full of memories of guys chirping each other, talk about life, and of course, hockey. It’s almost as if the locker room creates a special bond between players that releases tension and everyone bonds, makes jokes, and pulls pranks. The guys share the smiles after a win and the disappointments of a loss.

I love playing hockey because it is physically and emotionally exhausting. You are always involved whether playing on the ice or screaming at your teammates on the ice, there is barely enough time to breathe. It is like no other sport really, because you battle hard with your opponents to a point where you automatically start to hate them. Fists, words, and emotion all comes out. The closer the score the harder and stronger you push.  You are not playing for anything, but pride and that wonderful feeling of a win.

Today is hockey day and I already cannot wait for the time to come. I get my hockey socks, my lucky undershirt, my equipment that gets packed the same way each time.  I can’t leave without my customary can of Red Bull, along with water bottles in a bucket filled with pucks. My stick is taped and waxed, ready to go. The skates were sharpened earlier today. I throw my bag into the car.

Today is game day, comrades.

If you love hockey or have some interesting hockey stories to share, please feel free to leave comments below, or to message me or follow me on twitter @maximus91