Steamboat Springs On Sunday night, the ice at Howelsen is filled with talented hockey players seeking a higher goal than the number on the scoreboard.
Sure they like to win, but the main reason they show up for the games is because it's a rare opportunity to keep playing the game they love.
"We have four teams and play about 15 games each year," Peter Van De Carr said. Van De Carr organizes Steamboat's Premier Adult Hockey League. He is also the captain of the Backdoor Sports Team, which is leading the league with an 8-1-0 record.
"It's pretty competitive," Van De Carr said. "Sure, there are a few holes -- like myself -- but most of the players are really talented. Most of them are high school and college players who are still looking for a place to play competitively."
Van De Carr has organized his team for the past seven years. He has seen top players come and go, watched play move from an outdoor rink to an indoor facility and witnessed both championship years and years he would like to forget. But the one thing the league has always had, Van De Carr said, is a dedicated group of players who just love to play hockey.
"It's just a lot of fun," he said. "It's great to get out on the ice with your buddies and play the game."
Steamboat Springs' A league, the Premier Adult League, plays every Sunday night from November through March. This year, the league has four teams and about 60 players.
The local ice arena is also home for two other recreational adult leagues. But the Premier league is where most of the top players scratch their competitive itch.
"This is the highest level of competitive hockey for adults here in Steamboat," player Brian Harvey said. Harvey plays for and organizes the Steamboat Engineering & Architectural, Inc./KFMU team. That squad has also been in the championship game for the past several years, but is now battling to stay out of last place in the league.
Harvey said his team went through a few changes this year and it has taken time for the players to come together as a team. The team lost several close games, but has improved steadily since the beginning of the season, he added. He still thinks his team could contend for a title in the end-of-season tournament.
"The level of play in this league just keeps getting better and better," Harvey said. "But the great thing about Steamboat is there is a league for just about every player."
Harvey said some of the players in the league also play in the less-competitive recreational B league, which plays on Thursday and Sunday evenings. A C league for newer players also plays on Sunday.
"Sunday is hockey night here in Steamboat Springs," rink manager Stacey Foster said.
Not only is the evening filled with adult games at Howelsen, but there is also a post-game party at the Tap House at 6:30 p.m. where players can watch replays of their games on television.
Van De Carr said the adult leagues are somewhat limited in the winter because of the demand for ice time. He thinks the four teams in the premier league now are pushing the limits, but he isn't complaining.
"We are pretty lucky compared to bigger cities like Denver," Van De Carr said. "If we were there, we might be able to get ice time at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m."
Van De Carr said the winter adult leagues tend to be a little more competitive than the fall and spring leagues when there is less demand for ice time and fewer adult players.
"If you want to play a lot of hockey the fall and spring are the times to do it," Van De Carr said. "A guy like me can play six nights a week -- and I do."