Sean Beckwith: The sloppy beauty of rec league hockey
March 8, 2017
It just kind of happened. I was sitting at the centerline of the Aspen Ice Garden watching the clock tick down below 10 seconds wondering about a tie-break scenario or if this C Division rec league hockey game was going to end in an unsatisfying tie, and then a small miracle occurred. The puck and player found each other like two drunk people looking to hook up at last call, sped toward goal, took a shot that ended up idling in front of the net where Team Gant's Jorma Cox put it away like the last cupcake at a birthday party. And all this with 1.1 seconds left on the clock, a supremely rare occurrence in hockey.
The Friday night 8:55 matchup between Team Gant, Snowmass Snowboarding and alcohol was about as sloppy and glorious as the time and day would imply. I was dry on column ideas, but the rec league hockey game tales trickling in from my co-worker Max Vadnais (one goal, one face plant Friday) needed to be explored.
So I hustled to Zane's after getting off work at around 7 on Friday to meet the "team" for a few pregame cocktails. From what I gather, they essentially tailgate for their own games. My roommate attempted to sub for a similar rec league game but didn't see the ice due to drinking-related locker room vomiting, so this seems to be a league-wide phenomenon. I arrived a tad late. Drinks start at 6 and go until it's time suit up, about 45 minutes before puck drop, or until they force you out of the bar using grade school discipline. "I'm gonna count down from 20, and if you're not here, we're leaving."
I met two and a half members of Team Gant at Zane's; two and a half because one of the guys only has two appearances despite paying to be part of a team one game away from the playoffs. When asked how many people they had playing tonight, it was like somebody trying to name all the members of the Wu-Tang Clan. "There's RZA, GZA, Ghostface, Method Man, I think Raekwon, maybe U God. Not sure if Cappadonna is even a member anymore. Oh, and Old Dirty Bastard."
When I arrived at the Ice Garden, both teams had 10 players with the exception of the goalies, one of whom was filling in from another team because Team Gant lost their goaltender due to a broken leg. The Garden smells like a muted 24-Hour Fitness presumably because the temperature stifles the sweat odor. Benches, penalty box and scoring booth line one side with benches; stools and lockers line the opposite side. Bleacher seating occupies the far end above the ramp for the Zamboni, while at the other end an American flag hangs above a banner that reads, "It's a great day for hockey," Bob Johnson's famous catchphrase. Family and friends huddled in groups in the stands, letting their future Happy Gilmores blow off steam running wind sprints up and down the locker side of the rink.
I found a stool right at the centerline, took a seat and a beer and immersed myself in the action. The first thing I noticed was the diversity — relative to Aspen — of the players. A couple of guys looked like at anytime they were going to skate off, hop in their Oldsmobiles and hold up traffic. I saw four lady hockey players, which was super bad-ass. "Hey Linda, are we going to Michael Franti on Friday?" "No, I'm going to go chase a puck with a dozen or so hammered guys. Have fun, though." Then the usual fare of grizzled, bearded guys rounded out the teams with Team Gant in blue sweaters and Snowmass Snowboarding in red.
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You know when you're out at a party or a bar and two drunken guys get in a fight? That's how I'd describe most of the game. You want to see some semblance of form, but it ends up with a couple of guys on the ground alternating headlocks. It's still exciting because of the beer, the sound of the puck and occasional hit, but it's not the most aesthetically pleasing experience. Nobody dropped their gloves, even though I overheard two fans say, "It's getting heated in there" and "Somebody is about to fight somebody." One guy got checked pretty hard, although I'm not sure if the defenseman was responsible for the damage because homedude skated into the boards pretty hard on his own volition.
The ice inflicted most of the physical damage. A player coming across the puck with an open path to the net, taking two massive, rushed strides and then falling face-first to ground happened at least six times. I often chide a friend of mine on the basketball court for turning routine drives to the basket into hustle plays. This felt very similar. It's also easy to criticize while sipping beverages on the sideline.
The goals exchanged largely came from scrums or a power play. There were a few instances of what I like to call Hero Puck, a.k.a some guy thinking he's Gordon Bombay and trying to skate through the entire defense. Those attempts went about as well as the Steph Curry slap shots from behind the blue line. Gant scored first but fell behind after Snowmass put in two, the second coming from a power play that stemmed from a tripping penalty by eventual hero Cox. Vadnais tied it late before the stunner of a finish by Cox.
It truly was a great day for hockey.
Sean Beckwith would like to thank "The Office" and fictional Scranton Times columnist Chad Lite, The Liter Side of Life, for the name inspiration, and Anna Stonehouse for the picture.
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