By Collin Insley, Staff Writer
For as long as the NHL Lockout lasts, I’ll be using this space to report my beer league roller hockey team’s weekly games. Follow me on twitter @SoCalPuck for even more exclusive content.
It may seem strange (I know it does to me), but intense rivalries do develop in beer leagues – and it’s unbelievably silly. Stupid, even. But it happens, as evidenced by what seems to have become a blood rivalry between Motley Crew and another team, PM Machines. I’ve written about this rivalry before, when we wound up playing against PM Machines on Halloween in a game that wound up being nothing more than a formal scrimmage – and even that got out of hand.
In many ways it’s a blessing that the league had so many teams this season, with each team playing every other team only once. I’ve played in leagues with only three or four teams, which means that you play each other squad a handful of times over the course of the season. I know that I would not want to play PM Machines any more than absolutely necessary. I’d prefer to not have to play them at all. Hockey at this level is supposed to be fun, nothing more, but every time we play them, things seem to get out of hand and take a nasty turn.
This should not be confused with not enjoying playing against stiff competition, by the way. I love having to raise my game because of an opponent (see: last week). Hockey is a hard game to play, and at its best, when two teams are evenly matched, it can be extraordinarily hard to gain an edge, causing you to have to redouble your efforts and compete even harder – which is a great feeling, win or lose…at least most of the time.
That being said, competing hard is very different from playing dirty.
* * *
Somehow, some way, tensions between the two teams reached a boiling point before the game was even ten minutes old.
PM Machines came out fired up, and could have easily been called for several penalties in the first few minutes of the game. Liberal stick work, running guys, interference…you name it. A handful of times in the opening minutes, we found ourselves looking to the referees for a call that wasn’t coming, throwing our heads back and hands up in the air, exclaiming, “Really?!” We were incredulous.
One interesting detail of note: one of the referees officiating the game had acted as a sub for PM Machines the last time we had played them. After one “missed” call, I skated up to him and said, “Hey man, I know you’re buddies with all these guys, but you’ve gotta start calling some of this [expletive]. It’s getting embarrassing.” His response was, “I don’t know any of these guys! I subbed for them once. I don’t know a single one!” All I could say back was, “Yeah, okay, okay. Alright.” I had a two-on-one to defend.
Later in that same shift, that referee whistled me for tripping. I was definitely guilty, but it’s all just very funny to me. While sitting in the penalty box, things got out of hand. PM Machine’s best player hit Greg from behind, while on his knees, in the back of head. Greg was clearly shaken up on the play. No call. Moments later, Aaron Delfs took an opportunity to take a piece out of the guilty PM Machine, catching him with his head down. Then, it erupted, with the PM Machine in question skating after Aaron, cursing him out, screaming, “Why don’t you hit me when my head’s up next time, huh? You wanna go? I’ll [expletive] you up, man. I swear to God, I’ll [expletive] destroy you.” He started to unbuckle his face cage, as if to demonstrate just how serious he was. Aaron wasn’t interested, choosing instead to just laugh in the guy’s face, which I’m sure just infuriated him even more. The referees stood back and watched, not wanting to get in the middle of it, leaving a handful of players from either team to try to intercede – to no avail.
Eventually one official did get in-between the two would be combatants and separated them and gave them both matching minors. The PM Machine player spent the next two minutes jawing at Aaron from the penalty box, insisting that they ought to fight. Later, Aaron would tell me all he said in response to the moron in the other penalty box was, “Calm down – it’s just a [expletive] game.” I guess that didn’t do the trick, because the next time they took a shift against each other, the PM Machine player went right after Aaron again, eventually taking a few swings at him and shoving him down and against the boards – which earned him an early exit from the game, and with about only half the first period played. Eventful, no?
Thankfully things calmed down after that, as PM Machines were already shorthanded and were now left with only two players on the bench. Once the goonery subsided, the two teams settled into a helluva see-saw game.
PM Machines scored first (their best player’s lone meaningful contribution before being ejected), but we held them to one until early in the third period. While on the power play, I collected a rebound behind the net, curled around to the corner to look for a passing lane either to the slot, or to the point, and seeing no one available, I adjusted my angle slightly and threw the puck to the front of the net, where there were at least three or four bodies congesting the crease. I didn’t see what happened, but the puck hit something in the crease which redirected its course just enough to sneak past their goalie and over the line. I know that Alex was there. Maybe it bounced in off of his skate.
It was exactly the kind of bounce we needed, as their goalie had been unbeatable to that point, making several highlight reel saves. We were on the board, finally. PM Machines scored again to regain the lead, but soon enough we went on the power play again, and once again evened the score. The PM Machines penalty killing unit partially cleared the puck out into the neutral zone, where I skated back to collect it. After evading their high forechecker at about the red line, I turned on my jets and skated a slant route into the offensive zone. The two defenders remained low, and when neither one challenged me, I wound up for a slap shot and fired an absolute rocket that, a fraction of a second later, pinged off the cross-bar and shot straight down into the net. Their goalie didn’t even react. It had gone glove side, just past his ear.
The game was tied at two. Only a few moments later, after some beautiful cycling down low between Jon and Delfs, Jon fed me the puck at the top of the left circle. I looked up and saw that Delfs was screening their goalie. I slightly curled to the right and once again unloaded a bomb that went right through Aaron’s legs (literally about an inch below all that makes him a man – thank God he was wearing a cup!) and off the inside of the right post and in. Again, their goalie never saw it.
We were finally ahead in the game, with only about a minute and a half left – but it wouldn’t last long. On the ensuing shift, I pinched too far to the right boards in our own zone, and when the puck squirted out to an attacking PM Machine roaring down the middle of the rink, I tried to react and cut off his lane, but he had too much momentum. In the high slot, he let loose a wrist shot that deflected off my outstretched stick and past Andrew. I let my head fall back and my eyes roll. The hockey gods giveth, and the hockey gods taketh.
It was time for some bonus hockey. Overtime in our league takes the form of one three minute session, non-stop clock, no timeouts. We went to battle and I thought that we dominated the overtime session with several Grade A scoring chances, but we couldn’t sneak one past their goalie. The game ended knotted at three – and rightfully so, I think. However, as seems to be the way of things whenever we tango with PM Machines, the game couldn’t simply end. No, that would be too simple.
After the final buzzer, Delfs got tangled up with yet another one of their players, resulting in a few punches to the back of the head. I have no idea what precipitated the altercation, but I wish that I had stood up for him a little bit more. I will next time.
* * *
It was a game that started ugly and eventually saw two PM Machines ejected (the second getting kicked out on the penalty that gave us the power play that tied the game at two), but I think – maybe hope is a better word – that the nail biting back and forth quality of the actual hockey being played can be the beginning of some good will between the two teams. With the bad blood between us, I worry that one day something will happen that we’ll all regret. Part of the onus of responsibility falls to the referees tasked with officiating the game, to keep things in hand, but the majority of it is up to the two teams. Time will tell…
With that tie, we finished the regular ranked season second overall. PM Machines finished fourth. We’ll face off against Wolfpack in the first round of the playoffs and if we win, we’ll skate for the championship a few hours later against the winner of anything vs. PM Machines.
Tune in next week to find out what happens!