As the days start to get shorter, the weather becomes less hot and humid and the talk of the town is football, my favorite part of the year begins. Sure, college football is great, and I’m pumped for the fall scenery and days where you can sleep with the windows open, but what I’m most excited for is men’s league hockey.
I play in a few hockey leagues: a travel league where we play and usually lose to northern teams, a competitive league that’s naturally more serious, but my favorite is the beer league. At the end of the season, I’m usually burned out from 2-3 games a week, but it’s a great way to stay in shape even if I usually net zero calories burned with the beers consumed.
Growing up, I loved the camaraderie with hockey. We used to come home from college, go to the pond, drink some beers and play until it got dark. It was nice to skate with my old high school friends, swap college stories and reconnect. We haven’t done this in years because of how warm these most recent winters have been, but it’s a fond memory nonetheless.
Adult league, especially beer league hockey, has a subculture feel to it. People from all walks of life partake in this glorious game. There are fights, rivalries, people you avoid, people you love to play against and people that take it too seriously. I use the comp league to get out my competitive nature but the beer league is where the fun is had. It’s enjoyable being with people that like to drink beer and have a good time, and although losing isn’t exactly optimal, I’ve curbed my enthusiasm quite a bit as I’ve gotten older.
More than anything, I love seeing people grow. Hockey is an expensive sport, so a lot of people either pick it up later in life or only play in their driveway. The majority have never received the degree of coaching I did. I was very lucky that my parents pissed away thousands of dollars and countless hours of their time driving me to the rink for practice and traveling across state lines for tournaments.
But there’s a dark side too. On one particular occasion, I was given a one game suspension for fighting when some college kid hit me with his stick (a huge indiscretion in hockey). I went white rage mode and Goldberg Speared him, then pummeled. For my suspension, I put on a trench coat and a Tom Landry styled hat and coached. I drew up plays, put together lines and everything went really well. People thanked me for the coaching and from there, I saw that I really enjoy it. Seeing people progress from barely knowing rules and norms of the game to being able to score and contribute is the most rewarding part of the game. The best part is, the people I play with are quite receptive to new ideas and are always asking questions. It brings a sense of team that I long for.
In this sense, your team is like your family. As you get to know people, you learn about their kids, wives, work, troubles, triumphs and everything in between. We have watch parties, go to the pub (we’re sponsored by a local brewery) and have 4th period in the lot after the game. It could be 15 degrees out, but you can bet your bottom dollar we’ll be out there drinking beers. We’ll discuss what we could have done better, who’s an asshole, upcoming games or anything else that comes up.
I’ve been at beer league hockey for about six years now, and this is the third with this team. I went from barely knowing anyone, to having parties, to going on camping trips with my hockey friends. It doesn’t have to be hockey; finding the right kind of people you mesh with is essential. Playing adult sports helps with competitive people and it’s an easy way to make friends. I was weary at first, but I’m glad I got involved..
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