Well, it’s over. Another winter beer league hockey season has come and gone, and with it the hopes and aspirations of every team but the one that will get its name enshrined on the coveted Barn Cup trophy and get bragging rights for the year. While Steamboat has countless other sports to relive your glory years (if you ever had any), beer league skates away with them all. Entering my 20th year in a league that’s getting younger and faster as I get older and slower, with a shot that’s off target and fluttering, I can’t help but reflect on a few things that make it so special.
■ It’s the great economic equalizer. You get a range of professions on every team — a veritable cross section of the local workforce. Doctors face off against construction workers, Realtors tussle with lawyers and cooks sit next to CEOs.
■ Free checkups. Team Into the West has three doctors on its roster — Wilkinson, Sisk and Sauerbrey — making it a good team to get hurt against, especially when Dr. Borgerding is reffing. You also can ask about any tweaks you amassed since last time.
■ It’s conducive to post-game suds. Because you have to put on pads, no other sport gives you a half-hour of nearly naked towel talk where you can rehash plays, give teammates grief and even conduct business in the locker room.
■ It’s not the thuggish sport you see on TV — “I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out” — especially at the town, no-check level. Sure, you might get the occasional poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but pads cushion your falls. And unlike soccer, hoops and softball, the glide of the ice absorbs the pounding, which is why people play it long after they’ve hung up their cleats in other sports.
■ Built-in heckling sessions — not with your opponents but with your teammates in the locker room. The missed shots, pending engagements, weekend tales, kid travails and sports scores are fair game, as is the subterfuge of sewing your goalie’s jersey armpits together so he can better stop shots.
■ There’s parity. Three leagues — A, B and C — invite players of all abilities. Never-evers get the same thrill out of a game as A-leaguers.
■ The politics are lax. The A league is put together by Pete “The Commissioner” Van de Carr, who at 54 and with a fake knee and new Kareem Abdul Jabbar glasses takes no shame in organizing it simply so he can play, which lands him the goalie spot on our team, the Mad Dogs.
■ You get to travel. The six A-league teams play 18 games, including two freezing trips to Craig that culminate with camaraderie in the car and all-you-can-eat Kum & Go hotdogs on the way home.
■ Things get heated. Sure, refs have to mop testosterone off the ice sometimes and send grown-ups to the principal’s office or the penalty box. But that’s what happens when you’re flying around with razor blades on your feet and clubs in your hand, and that’s what makes it that much more like reliving your childhood. And things always settle down off the ice.
■ The players are devoted. Why else would a group called No Bozos put down their Geritol to get up at 5:30 a.m. every Friday to get juked by high schoolers? Why else would otherwise sane adults stay up for 10:15 p.m. Sunday start times? (The key: Don’t put your sweatpants on.) And why else would Friday noon drop-in sessions fill up on a powder day?
■ The memories. You’ll either cherish or hide them for life. Like the time I eddied-out kayaking and hiked through the bushes to register, dripping wet, on the last day of summer league sign-up. Or the time in a 6 a.m. stupor when I reached into my car for my gear and showed up in the locker room holding my kayak paddle instead of a hockey stick.
■ Scoring feels sweet. Especially when it’s up on the top shelf where mama keeps the biscuits. So do assists.
■ Stinky gear. Even antimicrobial SmartWool base layers don’t stand a chance warding off the smell. It’s a status symbol of how much you skate.
■ The Holy Grail. Every year, it boils down to the quest for the cup: the A league Barn Cup and more Stanley-like B Cup, which is often accessorized with a bra. For the team hoisting it every year, it’s the league’s crown jewel, your excuse for bailing on the family. Unfortunately, us Mad Dogs are noticeably absent from it this year, losing a heartbreaker in the finals to Minglewood (up 6-2, 8-7 final, don’t ask).
There’s never much time to mope. Spring league starts this week.