I’ve been playing recreational hockey — or beer league, as many call it — for about six years now, and I’ve seen my share of crazy stuff. I recall one game being cancelled because the Zamboni broke down in the middle of the ice. Another time, I remember a guy getting kicked out of the game because he was trying to fight with his own teammate. But the craziest thing that has happened is when I had a teammate get up and quit playing on my team — in the middle of a game.
It was summer of 2018 and my usual rink was closing down a few months for repairs. The team that I captained there wouldn’t have a place to play for the time being, so I started a temporary team at a different rink; just for a season. Not all of my teammates wanted to play at this different rink, so I ended up recruiting guys from two other teams. Our squad was now a combination of three different teams from two different leagues, but all that mattered at the time was that we had 15 skaters on the roster.
Now, you’re probably thinking that 15 skaters on a team is a lot, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you, but my goal was to make everyone’s team fee affordable. As it stood, everyone only had to chip in $220, which is a steal for a 13-game season in the Chicagoland area. Plus, rare is it that all 15 skaters would show up to a game at the same time, especially since people travel or have other commitments during the summer. And if all 15 show up, so what? That’s one game with nine forwards and six defensemen. It’s not the end of the world.
The league itself turned out to be a shit show, with all teams — except ours — being comprised of middle-aged men and a few of their sons who had just finished playing high school hockey. The recent high school grads would usually score six goals a game against us. My team was mainly guys who had been playing five years or less.
Anyway, in one particular game that stands out, we had 11 skaters and our goalie show up. One skater — I’ll call him “Bob” — came up to me before the game and asked to play center instead of right wing. Being the type of team captain that tries to oblige everyone, I put Bob into a three-man rotation on center, along with two left wings, two right wings and four defensemen.
After the first period, we were down 3-1.
We were still in this game, so I decided to tweak our lineup for the second period, and asked Bob to move to right wing so that we could just cycle our best two forwards, Sergey and Eric, at center. Having one of those two guys on the ice at all times dramatically increased our chances of winning — or at least not losing by 10 goals.
“But Sergey doesn’t backcheck!” exclaimed Bob. “He doesn’t help out on defense. Move him to wing!”
I thought for a moment about how Sergey had indeed come back and helped on defense. I normally play defense, and made a bad play in our own zone in the first period, but Sergey bailed me out and prevented what could have been another goal against us. Moving Sergey to wing would be a disservice to our team.
“No,” I calmly said. “Sergey is helping out on D. Why don’t you want to play wing?”
“Because I don’t want to be in a three-man rotation,” Bob exclaimed. “That’s bullshit!”
“But you were OK with being one of three centers.”
Bob had no answer.
“Tell you what,” I said, trying to keep the peace. “You can have my spot on defense. We only have four defensemen this game, so you’ll be on the ice every other shift, and I’ll go into a three-man rotation at right wing.”
“No, that’s OK,” said Bob. “I’m just going to go home now.”
“Wait. You’re leaving now? In the middle of a game.”
“Yeah. I’ll play the next game if we have less skaters.”
“No, you won’t play next game,” I said as Bob stood up and grabbed his water bottle. “Any guy that quits on his team mid-game is not someone that I want on my team. Leave your jersey in the locker room and I’ll work on getting you a refund.”
As Bob walked by our bench and to the locker rooms, one by one everybody’s head turned to watch him leave.
“Is he OK?” asked one teammate. “Is he hurt?”
“Just butthurt,” I mumbled, shaking my head.
Bob was long-gone by the time our game was over and decided to not leave his jersey behind. I had borrowed some jerseys from my teammates who were taking the summer season off, so I needed to get it back from him.
I figured that, since he kept the jersey, Bob still wanted to play on the team, so I sent him an email and tried to smooth things out. I gave Bob the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was having a bad day, or going through a rough time in his life. I don’t want to condemn people over doing one dumb thing. I asked Bob to explain why he up and left our team last night.
In short, he explained that he was frustrated that several of the guys on “your team” (note that he didn’t say “our team, ” but whatever) were only interested “in individual ice time over the well-being and progress of the team.”
This was coming from a guy who literally quit on the team — which didn’t help the team’s well-being — because he was concerned about his individual ice time being a couple of minutes less than what he thought it should be. He offered to give more detail on what his problem was, so I replied and asked him to. He never did.
Eventually, his jersey made it back to me via a mutual acquaintance.
In the end, Bob’s quitting wasn’t really a big loss for us, though our team did lose that particular game 11-2. While we didn’t lose by 10 goals, it was still a bad loss, and having an extra player on our side probably wouldn’t have made that much of a difference anyway.
As I look back at it now, I find it funny that someone would pay to join a league, drive to the rink, get suited up, play every third shift the first period, and then decide to go home — all over five minutes of ice time.
Do you — or did you ever — play hockey? What’s the strangest thing that happened in one of your games? ■
Photos by Dave Pena.