Saturday, June 4, 2011

Adult League Hockey

Image credit: Dad. Game is versus the Caribou, and puck is just off my leg pad.

Much like everything else after graduating college, my hockey has become expensive, serious, and exhausting. 48 minute intramural games against relatively sedate, but skilled, fellow Northeastern students have turned into 60 minute league games against violent, hodgepodge groups of miscreants whose primary focus is injuring others without getting called for enough penalties to be forced out of a game. It's been an interesting transition, but I feel as though I'm slowly getting better, undoubtedly aided by the frequency with which I now play and my far superior equipment. Stepping into 2010 after learning to play in the '90s has been a delight for my knees, although the puck certainly finds holes in my pads and strikes exposed flesh more than probability seems to dictate.

I play in what's ironically called the "novice" league at a rink in El Segundo. In reality, novice league is a league for people who want to play on Friday nights. The advantages to playing on Fridays are numerous: no work the next day with late games, the ability to mesh one's post-game drinking with the established routine of the night, relieving stress through sport at the end of the week. Unfortunately, for the learners I encounter weekly at stick time, this league is a hilarious misrepresentation of the term "novice." Nobody in the league is truly a novice, and players typically hang around the league for over three years. How somebody can be a novice for three years is certainly an interesting question, and one best explained by the ratio of ringers to appropriately skilled players.

My team, the Ice Crue (undoubtedly named by some player following an in-game concussion and a post-game beer), started off the season 2-0 while combining to score 17 goals while allowing 3. We feasted on the two worst teams in the league. The league administrators rewarded us by removing our two best players, neither of whom was in our top 5 scorers at that point. This woud've been okay had the league followed through with the even-handed removal of all ringers from all teams, but all this action truly achieved was making the Ice Crue utterly uncompetitive.

We lost our next game 14-4, the next 4-1, and last night's game 4-0. After seeing a total of 32 shots in my first two games, I saw 118 in the next three.

Last night's game was a superb example of the inequity in the league. Both teams had 10 players a side, so there was no real advantage in conditioning. However, the first goal was scored by a player who, while falling down, put the puck into the high glove corner of the net on a one-time pass from the corner. The next goal was scored when a player skated from his net, got all the way to my blue line, cut over to his back hand and cut through three defenders, then came across the crease and put the puck off the corner pipe short-side above my blocker. This is not a novice procedure. Meanwhile, my team struggled to string together more than two passes in a row, and accumulated penalties with a confident resolve.

The previous game was similar, with our team managing to tie the game at 1-1 early but then falling to a team which actually utilizes a coach on the bench. Yes, they have former NHL player Daryl Evans standing on the bench for their "novice" league games. The entire team is ringers, and they will not lose a game this season.

It's frustrating, but also exhilaration. My first two games were marked with the peculiar feeling that there was nothing I could do which would allow my team to lose. Ken Dryden spoke of this feeling in The Game, and it's not particularly attractive. Certainly, winning games is delightful for everyone involved, but I felt no different than a backup goalie, a scratched player, or a spectator. My efforts were ultimately unimportant.

Obviously, this changed when we lost our best players. Suddenly, I became critical. Giving up a goal is no longer a mild inconvenience, but an enormous obstacle, and an obstacle which I am hopelessly unable to assist my teammates in overcoming. The 14-4 game was a transition, played with 5 total skaters for the Crue and countless acts of idiocy by the opposing team*. Now, the team has entered a phase where it must play perfect hockey to win. Whether this is possible remains to be seen.

For anyone interested, statistics are logged in this league and published online. You can find me here by looking for the Ice Crue. You'll find my league-leading 125 saves and mediocre .833 save percentage under the Goalie Leaders link.

*Ironically, the team was the Huskies.

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