Creation No. 0004
A few years back a buddy of mine made a rather poignant hockey observation: “No matter who you are or what level you make it to, we all end up in beer league someday.”
This made me think differently about my weekly 9:50 p.m. beer league skate at my local Hippodrome. It had me contemplating that if beer league is essentially the hockey equivalent of “growing old together,” maybe we should pay more attention to the recipe.
So, that’s what this is. I’ve played beer league hockey long enough to know what a great group feels like and to notice the common elements. I know there is a right mix and an ideal cast of characters. I understand the archetypes, and how they all work together. So, think of this as your home-brew instruction manual for building the perfect beer league team as we explore the 10 essential ingredients:
Let's face it, the best beer league teams have a kid in his 20s who’s still out there slaying it. Women want to be with him, and guys want to be him. The Swipe Right Snipe is usually a Youngblood with a great mop who scores as much off the ice as he does on it. He lets the rest of us put a capital "V" in "Living Vicariously." To preserve the natural order of things, it works best if this kid is the best player on your team. He’s the player capable of doing things (spin-o-rama) no one else would even attempt. And post game, he’ll share his Tinder exploits, while we explain the many merits of LinkedIn. He asks about mortgages while we ask him about rainbow parties, "Does that really happen?" The Swipe Right Snipe will have a name, but he’ll somehow end up being called something like "Ace" or "EZ" or "Cuz." Our own personal Vinny "Dump and" Chase, The Swipe Right Snipe makes us all feel a little younger.
If hockey players chirp in general, The Hype Man is our mockingbird. He never shuts up. An endless geyser of chatter, trash talk, pump-up, and bullshit, The Hype Man is Flavor Flav on skates. He talks on the bench. He talks in the locker room. He talks in the shower. He talks on his way out to his truck. It’s mostly all junk, verbal diarrhea, and sonic spam, but his volume is cranked to 11 and his word count is Shakespearean. The biggest compliment we can give The Hype Man is if he misses a night and no one is there hooting and hollering, it’s too quiet and somehow a little sad. The Hype Man is the hockey version of “Hum battah hum battah SWING.” He’s the seasoning, the color guy, the jam.
Swipe Right Snipe
Let’s not forget what a bitch it is to organize weekly hockey with a bunch of old men who are likely to flake because they fell asleep on the couch or, let’s be honest, decided not to show up because it’s below freezing and past 9 p.m. The Organizer is the guy who collects the money, sends the IN or OUT emails, manages the numbers, and most critically, makes sure to somehow get two wing nut goalies to show up each week. He has a list of subs to pull from, and when you see him at the bar, he’s probably carrying around three different envelopes. Equal parts concierge, accounts receivable, and secretary, The Organizer is the unsung hero who makes it all go.
In the end, the beauty of beer league is we all get to become archetypes. I’ve been playing with the same group of guys for close to ten years, and I know only a few of their real names. And while there certainly are more archetypes than the ten listed above, these are the minimum you can’t do without.
A mix of Ed from the old Bartles & James TV commercials and the big lineman from The Blind Side, The Strong Silent Type is like a piece of bread or a cracker to cleanse our palate so we can continue to taste. It helps to have a guy in your beer league bottling bucket who would best be described as "solid," whatever that means. And while The Strong Silent Type will never make it out for a postgame beer due to an omnipresent "early-morning meeting" of some sort, he’s usually a consistent and predictable player on the ice. The Strong Silent Type speaks only when spoken to, and most of the regulars won’t even go out of their way to engage him. The Strong Silent Type shows up every week, goes about his business in the locker room and takes off right after the skate. You might play with him ten years and only hear him say ten words. The Strong Silent Type will often have a nickname like "Red" or "Curly" or something directly tied to his physical appearance because, let's face it, nobody really knows him.
The Strong Silent Type
The two things you need to know about The Captain America Guy are: he’s very good at hockey, and he’s supremely positive. Everyone on both benches hears The Beatles’ song “Here Comes the Sun” lightly playing in their heads when they see Captain America Guy walk into the arena each week. On the ice, Captain America Guy makes everyone better. He’s an unselfish playmaker, the proverbial straw that stirs the drink (most likely a margarita–what’s not to like?) or rising tide that lifts all boats. Even if you’re the Titanic on skates, Captain America Guy will find a way to put one off your shin pads and into the net before skating over to you while pointing and saying “You!” like Ice Man in Top Gun. Captain America Guy somehow sees all.
He notices little things and is always handing out specific and detailed compliments on the bench like, “Nice drop pass two shifts ago, Ray!” or “Good back-check, Steve.” Captain America Guy is usually a great person too–if Joe Sakic and Ned Flanders had a love child, he’d be it. Captain America Guy is the type who makes it immensely easier to sell a guy’s weekend to your wife because if he’s there, everything will be fine. In the perfect beer league team recipe, Captain America Guy is our yeast—and all he “activates” is a whole bunch of positivity and a whole bunch of good.
OK, let’s get this out of the way. This guy sucks. But I'm here to tell you The Bulging Neck Vein Phy-Ed Guy is also as essential as hops, malt, or barley in brewing up the perfect beer league team. The Bulging Neck Vein Phy-Ed guy is the guy who takes it, oh, 400% more seriously than he should. He might play the wrong way (suck-hole), or he may just play way too hard or physical. He’s a jackass who lettered in intensity. He wears a mouth guard at night because he grinds his teeth when he sleeps. He attacks life (and beer league) like he’s launching himself from a 3-point stance. The term "chomping at the bit" was invented for this guy. He keeps his plus-minus, uses clear tape on his shin pads, and occasionally fights with an unwilling combatant from the other team. He's not opposed to sliding a stick down the ice to stop a breakaway. You might think his name was Dude, because nearly every action he makes will make you say," Dude...come on!" or “Seriously, Dude?” So why is he in the mix? He's in the mix because The Bulging Neck Vein Phy-Ed Guy reminds us what we love about the game by doing everything we hate. His constant violations reinforce our values, allowing the rest of us to sit at the bar after a good skate and talk about how he doesn't "play the right way," and that's worth a spot on this roster.
The Bulging Neck Vein Phy-Ed Guy
Need I say more? In an ideal world, you might have two of these guys—or four.
I've had goalies through the years who were good on paper. Big, young, athletic specimens a few years removed from high school or college hockey. And sure, they help you win games, but when it comes to beer league, that’s a flagrant misuse of the position. In beer league you don't want a goalie who's good on paper—you want a goalie who's good in leather. The right goalie should be like Little Steven is to the E Street Band, Taco is to The League, Flea is to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a field-goal kicker is to an NFL team. A reporter once asked Flea what his favorite smell was. His reply: "Purple." That's what you're looking for in a goalie. It helps if he’s a physical abnormality as well. That might mean he has a body like a bag of milk, or it might mean he’s so skinny you’re checking for a crown of thorns under his helmet. Ideally, when your goalie is changing after the game, he should look like a scene from the VA hospital or a Sturgis rally. A beard is good, maybe some tattoos. They should be rugged as hell. It works best if The Biker Gang Goalie is very emotional, too. You want him breaking his stick once a season, and occasionally just screaming profanities after a few softies. The Biker Gang Goalie is always up for a beer after the game but usually doesn't say much because he's listening to the voices in his head and carving his own path. If he can work the night shift and drive a windowless utility van and slide open the door to throw in his gear after every game, all the better.
The Biker Gang Goalie
This will be a debated addition, but I believe the ideal beer league team should have one truly terrible player who plays the game with reckless abandon. A guy capable of running into you and hurting you whether he’s on the other team or your own. And, while I’d limit the exposure to one bona fide hazard, his presence actually makes the beer league experience better—and here’s why. While having The Hazard on the ice is dangerous, it does a lot of different things for the group. For starters, no matter how bad he is, I promise you at some point during the winter he’s going to somehow score between 3 and 5 goals, making everyone ask, “What just happened?” There will be no rational explanation for The Hazard netting a few, but it will happen. And it will be one of the best memories of the winter for everyone. Because when The Hazard scores, we all score. The Hazard reminds us all we’re not in the NHL. A few years ago I read a book about small-town life where the local author talked about how the next time you’re stuck behind a car going too slow on the road with a driver without a care in the world, rather than try to figure out how to get around that person we should all figure out how we can be that person. The Hazard reminds us it’s just beer league, and his very presence says a lot about the group. If The Hazard is there, it means no one tried to remove him because “We’re going to play a little higher level this winter.” Because, what’s the point?
Hockey is in our blood, and it’s even better when it’s literally in our blood. It’s for this reason the best beer league group should consist of at least one set of brothers. I’m not sure why—it just makes it better. In-laws will do, even cousins—there just needs to be some extension of family on the ice. The Brothers make the beer league team somehow feel “up to code” as the on-ice version of the Hatfields and McCoys. The Brothers are great because they’ll naturally always want to be on “light” or “dark” together, will try to time their shifts to share the ice, and are just as likely to come to each other’s defense as they are to yell at each other on the same team. It’s just not beer league if there aren’t some brothers around.