By Collin Insley, Staff Writer
For as long as the NHL Lockout lasts, I’ll be using this space to report on my beer league roller hockey team’s weekly games. Follow me on twitter @SoCalPuck for even more exclusive content.
Pop quiz: You’re a player on a beer league hockey team in the midst of basically curb stomping an opposing team. You’re thoroughly dominating them, and rapidly approaching a mercy decision (when the gap in the score becomes large enough that the referees call off the rest of the game to save the other team from further embarrassment) – how do you proceed?
Do you put them out of their misery? Do you go easy on them or, conversely, try and make it harder on yourselves (example: making a conscious effort to complete a certain number of passes before taking a shot), so as to perhaps get in some extra team practice time? How much do you celebrate after scoring? If they start getting frustrated and chippy, how do you respond then?
There are, of course, answers to all of those questions – they can be found in the Beer League Dictionary™ under the term ‘etiquette.’ (Note to self: see about writing an actual beer league dictionary.)
Beer league etiquette is a real thing – a code of ethics, if you will, not dissimilar to ‘The Code’ in hockey fights, and universally applicable, if not universally understood or embraced by all.
Of course, one of the greatest things about team sports is that every team is made up of individuals who bring to the table their own experiences and personalities, and with that, tend to react to various situations differently than you yourself might. The trick is finding the right balance of personalities to make a team click while upholding the standards of beer league etiquette.
In our game last week, Motley Crew found ourselves for the first time having to navigate the ethics of a looming mercy. How did we respond?
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We played Yellow Team this week, and with hindsight being 20/20, I’ve now got to think that this is the team that Adult League manager James Irwin must have thought we were playing when he asked us to go easy and not run up the score.
Statistically, the Predators (the team we were actually playing when James told us to take it easy) may be one of the weaker teams in our league, but at least they have a couple of wins (including against us!). Not so much for Yellow Team. They entered the game with an 0-7 record and a -28 goal differential (16 scored, 44 allowed). They left the game with an 0-8 record and an even uglier -37 goal differential. It wasn’t pretty, but saving for some good, old fashioned beer league etiquette, it could have been a whole lot uglier.
Yellow Team had a few pretty good players, but their major downfall was goaltending. Their goalie was small, but that wasn’t the problem – he played angles horribly, and had a terrible five-hole. I know that for me personally, I started to feel bad whenever I scored on him (it happened five times – three alone on slap shots from distance). At the risk of sounding incredibly cocky, at a certain point, this sort of domination just isn’t very much fun anymore. I certainly reached that point in this game.
I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re really taking it to another team, and a mercy is within your reach, you should just get it over with in as quick and efficient a manner as possible. As much as it’s not terribly fun to completely dominate a clearly mismatched team, it’s even less fun for the team being so handled. Motley Crew has been there before – we struggled mightily in some of our first seasons together, and as a result often got our asses handed to us. It sucks – but it’s also character building, and so long as the other team isn’t nasty about doing their business, there’s an awful lot to take away from such an experience (like, for example, how to handle the situation when the tables are turned.)
Although we didn’t actually mercy Yellow Team (the final score was 14-5; the mercy rule in our league is ten goals), I like to think that we handled everything the right way. At least, I hope we did.
Once it became clear what the tenor of the game was going to be, we mostly stopped celebrating goals much beyond simple fist bumps and shin pad taps. Our offensive attack became workmanlike – even fancy dangles were performed without much by way of flash, or even joy. My attitude became simply, “let’s put the puck in the net and go home.” (To be fair, this wasn’t a sentiment shared by everyone. Jon, for example, wanted to keep playing, not in the interest of embarrassing Yellow Team any further, but rather to get some extra practice time. He isn’t wrong to want that.)
And so we went to work, and although Yellow Team displayed great competitive spirit, more than anything, I’m happy that the game didn’t devolve into the sort of goonish bullshit that routes like this typically seem to invite. Anyone who has been reading this series knows that, for whatever reason, our team seems to have had more than its fair share of chippy, ugly games, but thankfully that wasn’t the case here. Certainly, a large part of the credit has to go to Yellow Team – they didn’t have any players that seemed the sort to transform into Neanderthals when frustrated or embarrassed – but by the same token, we did a great job of not giving them any fuel to stoke the potential fire.
It’s all about give and take.
* * *
Ultimately, beer league etiquette isn’t really anything special or unique – essentially, it’s the golden rule: do unto others as you would have done unto you. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. Just as there are bad eggs, there are also teams seemingly full of bad eggs – we’ve certainly faced off against our fair share of such teams and players, which is why it’s incredibly refreshing to play a team who doesn’t get their collective noses too out of joint when they’re frustrated.
It’s a fact of existence in beer league hockey that some teams are far superior to others. Domination will happen. Very often, shenanigans follow soon thereafter. I hate this. My go-to response whenever the shenanigans start is, “Guys: Calm down. We all have to work in the morning.”
Now, I’m all for stiff competition – that’s what makes the game fun – but not every game you play is going to be a barn burner. Sometimes teams are mismatched and before you can say Gordie Howe, you’ve got yourself a route. The key is in the response from both the team doing the routing and the team being routed.
I’m just glad that in this case, both teams seem to have recently brushed up on the etiquette section of their copies of the Beer League Dictionary. It very well could have gotten ugly otherwise.