February 28, 2003

Hanging 'em Up

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I didn’t start playing hockey until I was a freshman in high school, and by that time it was too late for me to develop any sort of talent for the sport. Of course, since I loved the game, that never deterred me from playing.

I played for a few years on my high school’s varsity team, even becoming a starter as a senior. And then, when I graduated and moved on to Cornell, I figured my playing days were done. I’m not a good enough skater to play on the club team, and everyone knows that the varsity is poised to make a run at the NCAA championship, so interviewing the players is about as close as I’ll get to that team.

My freshman year, I played with the intermediate P.E. class. I had a blast, skating on the Lynah ice, but I still missed the spirit of competitive hockey. Nobody kept score in gym class.

Then, thankfully, a friend of mine introduced me to the Ithaca Adult Hockey Association. The IAHA is a rec league that plays games at Cass Park, across the inlet, and The Rink, which is in Lansing. I joined my friend’s team, Graphtex, that season, and we went all the way to the finals, where we lost to the Royal Palm’s team.

And competitive hockey was back.

Even though I played in a no-check, novice-to-intermediate skill level league, I became wrapped up in the competition, celebrating when we won, facing disappointment when we lost.

Along the way, I’ve played with teammates who are great people — other students, staff, faculty, and townies — people brought together by their love of the game of hockey.

I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a rivalry in a league like the B/C league (so-called because the players are divided into skill levels from A to C), but I found myself getting especially geared up for certain opponents, such as the Palm.

One of the best feelings I’ve had since I’ve been coming to Cornell was last season, when we won the championship (and beat the Palm in the semis along the way). The prize is a six-inch high plastic trophy, but winning it was an accomplishment I won’t soon forget.

There are many more memories I’ll keep from my time in the IAHA, like the time two friends on the team and I talked a few other friends into loading up on Jim Beam and cheering us on. We won the game, 5-1, I scored a hat trick, and our friends ended up stealing the Christmas tree from Cass Park’s lobby (which they returned the next day when our team captain called us with the news that the rink was considering pressing charges).

There are the uniforms we got stuck with this season — powder blue monstrosities that made us look like Smurfs on ice. The things looked so stupid that we thought about bringing back our gray jerseys from last year for good luck when the playoffs came around.

Then there was the time, only a few games ago, when an opposing player and I each took 10-minute misconducts and got put in the same penalty box, since there’s only one at Cass Park. By the end of the 10 minutes, we were laughing with each other, which for some reason made the ref come over and yell at us even more.

It’s experiences like those that are unique to the rec league experience. I can’t picture Greg Hornby joking with Jaime Sifers of Vermont after they fought in a game a few weeks ago.

Unfortunately, all my fun in the league came to an end on Sunday when we couldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs. Yes, I was upset that the season came to an end, but I felt worse that I wouldn’t get to play with my teammates again. Even though we only played two nights a week, I’ve made some great friends over the past three years. I guess it’s kind of similar to how the seniors feel on Senior Night.

I played in the IAHA for three years, and now that Graphtex has been eliminated from the playoffs, I again have no idea where I’ll get my competitive hockey fix, or where I’ll find people who love playing the sport as much as I do. I just hope there’s a rec league wherever I end up finding a job.

Archived article by Alex Fineman