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.
Last week’s game against SRK was a bit of a horror show, with goonery abound and thuggish play the dish of the day. It’s fitting that our game the following week – on Halloween – would provide some stiff competition to the abject silliness of the SRK game.
Generally speaking, sporting events – especially hockey games – that take place on Halloween are potential powder kegs just waiting to explode. This is true at almost any level, I think. Having taken part in my fair share of Halloween games, I can attest to the levels of volatility often lying just beneath the surface, waiting to break through to the top skin of the game.
It’s strange, and I don’t know why this is the case, but people seem to be more on edge during Halloween games. Whether it’s legitimate evil spirits in the air, or whether people would rather be out partying, it’s tough to say – but strange things happen. And our game this week was no exception.
* * *
We were scheduled to play a team called Blazers on October 31st at 7:40 PM. I got to the rink around 7:00 – it seemed dead with no games being played on any of the rinks. Kind of spooky, even. At the front desk, the sign-in sheets and TV schedule screens had us playing a team with which we have a lot of history – the PM Machines. Huh?
I found Jon in the locker room. He told me that we might not have a game – that someone from Blazers had called to say that they might not have enough bodies to play. I wasn’t exactly surprised – most teams usually have trouble fielding a competitive group for games falling on or near holidays. As far as I was concerned though, at least we’d get an hour of rink time, which was fine by me. I started putting on my gear and one by one, our teammates started trickling in. At least we’d have a full contingent of players (minus Aaron Arak – it was his birthday).
With no game on our rink, I went out early to get in a bit more of a warm-up period (my gloves were dry, and I wanted to sweat in them a little bit – nothing drives me crazier than dry gloves). When I got out there, I saw a couple members of the PM Machines taking shots at the open net on the opposite side of the rink. Maybe we were playing them…but why?
(For a refresher on the history between Motley Crew and PM Machines, read my first Beer League Diaries entry here.)
Then, the confirmation: we would be playing PM Machines. One of their players – one I nearly came to blows with in one of our previous games – skated over to me and explained to me that they had had a game scheduled for 6:30, but that only two of their teammates had shown up – which was two better than whoever their opponent was supposed to be. So the rink decided to give PM Machines some substitutes (comprised mostly of rink employees, who usually tend to be pretty good players) and give both them and us a game. But would it count for the standings? He didn’t know, and neither did the single referee who drew the lucky straw to officiate the game.
Until we got confirmation that the game was just for funsies, we’d prepare as if it was a regular league game with standings implications. We never got that confirmation. And things got heated. Naturally.
* * *
Hockey players are proud people, and as a rule, when push comes to shove, they’re going to shove back.
We started the game strong, scoring five goals in the first period. A few of the subs that the rink had given PM Machines were very good though, and we knew that we’d have to keep skating, keep scoring, keep attacking, if we wanted to stay in the game. Sure enough, two of their subs started to take over the game in the second period, eventually leading them to six unanswered goals and a 6-5 lead. While all this was happening, the shenanigans started piling up.
To my mind, it all started when PM Machines dumped the puck off the glass and into our zone. I skated behind the net to meet it, but one of their players (he wore #56, and although I don’t know his name, I know I’ve seen him working at the rink before – I think maybe at the pro shop) tried to cut me off. I got to the puck first though, and quickly ringed it back around the boards. A collision was inevitable, though the degree of contract was entirely controllable. He went out of his way to finish his hit. I shoved him back. The ref told us to quit it.
Now, an aside: roller hockey is a non-hitting form of hockey. Unlike youth and beer league ice hockey, where some light hitting is accepted, checking simply isn’t tolerated at any level of roller hockey save the professional level – and even then, it’s nothing compared to the hitting in pro and junior ice hockey leagues. Of course we’ve all been on both the giving and receiving ends of hits, so it isn’t too much of a shock when you get a little extra contact in a game – incidental contact is going to happen. But when a guy seemingly goes out of his way to finish a check, it’s surprising, and more than a little bit irritating.
And so I shoved him back just to let him know I was there – which lit a fuse that came very close to blowing the lid straight off this game.
Later in the period, I was carrying the puck up the left side and in my peripheral vision, I saw #56 skating at me on a diagonal. Right as he was about to catch up with me, I suddenly cut to the right to try to go around him – a move that is ill-advised in a hitting league, but generally pretty safe in most roller hockey leagues. He clipped me. I didn’t fall, or get hurt, but again, it felt intentional. It pissed me off. So I decided to do something about it.
Later in that same shift, he had the puck and was angling toward the net from my left. He dangled around me using an admittedly pretty move, but I recovered and gave his stick a quick slash right as he was about to shoot, followed by a quick cross-check to the lower back, and one final shove closer to his mid-back. He turned around and tried punch me, but he missed high (I’m rather short of stature). By the time he tried again, I was already skating away and to the penalty box – I knew that this ref wouldn’t let this rough stuff slide. Sure enough, he whistled us both for roughing.
I calmed down quite a bit during my time in the box, but most of the damage had been done. The game was now veering towards out of control, and there wasn’t much that could be done to stop it. I just hoped it didn’t get too out of hand. It didn’t help much that PM Machines’ ringers were dominating the game – keep in mind that we were operating under the assumption that the game counted towards the standings.
By the time the third period rolled around, both teams were playing with a sense of controlled rage which admittedly can make for an exciting game, but when you’re in the middle of it – and when, let’s face it, in the grand scheme of things the game means next to nothing – it can be a little bit scary.
There were a few other incidents throughout the rest of the game – my friend #56 took a holding penalty on me as we were battling for the puck in the corner (a call he argued against, but was pretty clear cut), and our captain Jon took a run at #56 when he wouldn’t let Aaron Delfs’ stick loose, resulting in a two minute roughing penalty. All this prompted one PM Machine to pipe up: “Come on – you guys are playing like it’s Pee Wee hockey.”
I’m not entirely sure what he meant by this (perhaps that we were playing immaturely…?), but I just had to laugh. I almost retorted, “You’re one to talk,” but thought better. Maybe we were being immature – I’m a little too close to it to have an unbiased opinion – but it takes two to tango, and in this case, it was PM Machines who had asked us to dance in the first place.
* * *
What happened in the rest of the game doesn’t matter – literally. Later in the week, we found out that the game indeed was just a grandiose pick-up game – that the rink wanted both teams to be able to play, just for having shown up, but that it would have no bearing on league standings. That may have been nice to know before the puck dropped.
(For the record, we made a dramatic come back and Jamie scored a strange game-winning goal on a slap shot from the red line that seemed to skip off the court and past their goalie. Final score was 9-7 for the good guys.)
I can’t help but to wonder whether the temperature of the game would have been quite as high had both teams known that it was all a low-rent exhibition game. Would I have responded the way I did after that initial hit? What I keep coming back to is the fact that PM Machines must have known the whole time – after all, they had several rink employees skating for them…which then makes me wonder what in the hell #56 (a rink employee, remember) was thinking by starting all that crap? It’s a real head scratcher.
I suppose it just goes to show that most hockey players are conditioned to play and respond in a certain way, no matter the context, or whether a game actually matters, or not. I’m just glad that things didn’t escalate much beyond where they were for most of the game. That would have been awfully unfortunate.
Next week we play Quicksilver (again). Stay tuned to Sunbelt Hockey Journal and follow me on twitter @SoCalPuck for more content!
Until next week…