Most people are familiar-ish with the NHL, but what about a level of play known as Beer League, also referred to as Rec League or Men’s League? You got anything on that? Beer League has often been described as the great equalizer of hockey players. It’s roughly 20 steps below the NHL in terms of caliber and we all end up here eventually, just some of us sooner than others. In Chicago, Johnny’s Ice House near the United Center is a Mecca for Beer Leagues with over 125 teams with catchy names like the Angry Beavers, Yellow Snow, the Beached Whalers and the Cougar Hunters. After a 15 year Beer League career here, I feel I’m qualified to point out the biggest differences between the NHL and Beer League.
Most NHL games begin at 7:30pm and will end just after 10pm, not a bad little time slot. In Beer League, it’s not uncommon for games to start as late as 11pm on a weeknight. While you theoretically still could be home in bed by 1:00am, you end up tossing and turning for two more hours thinking about that guy who slashed you or that open net you missed. On top of that, you are pretty much useless the next day at work.
NHL teams still employ so-called enforcers that play limited minutes each game but are in the lineup essentially to fight. In Beer League there are very few fights. But each team has one guy who thinks there are scouts in the stands or that he’s playing for the Stanley Cup. This is the guy that takes the game way too serious, slashing and hacking people. He’s also the same guy that keeps you tossing and turning after the game.
At any given NHL game you can usually spot the players’ wives. It’s the section of attractive, well put together women all sitting together. In Beer League, this section doesn’t exist. You will occasionally find the new girlfriend in the stands or the co-worker you’re trying to sleep with, but rarely will you find a wives’ section. The cold hard truth is most Beer Leaguers are there to get away from their wives. I know, shocking.
NHL Players put their bodies at risk every game by blocking shots. Gregory Campbell, of the Boston Bruins, played a full minute with a broken leg after blocking a shot last year. Beer Leaguers block shots all the time, except it’s rarely intentional and mostly because they were too slow to get out of the way.
If an NHLer takes a stick or puck to the face they are rushed to the locker room and cared for by the best doctors. In Beer League, you wait 4 hours in the ER for a Resident to stitch up your face like Frankenstein’s monster. Tip: You’re better off staying in the bar for a few beers before heading to the ER. And if you think you’ll look tough the next day, your co-workers just laugh at the stupidity of you playing hockey at midnight without a full mask.
From the time NHLers get to the rink on game day until they leave for home or the airport can span 7 hours or more. Beer Leaguers also put in about 7 hours at the rink, all for the love of the game. That time is composed of a one hour game followed by 6 hours in the bar. That’s commitment. Why 6 hours in the bar? Refer to the aforementioned “Player Wives” section.
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