A former elite college hockey player explains why he gave up on the game—and what brought him back
By Frank Guiffre
It’s been a few years since I suited up for a game that had more than a dozen people in the bleachers (if that many). The downside to that is if crowds are what get you in the zone, then rec hockey might not be right for you. The upside: Great odds for the 50/50 raffle for those in attendance.
I played college hockey all throughout my four years of school. I played in championship games where there were 5,000-ticket sales, and believe me, you didn’t need to get yourself pumped up for those types of games. Despite the six rec leagues that existed in my area after I graduated from college, I didn’t play hockey for a good 18 months. I found it very hard to suit up for a game without my band of brothers, without “something to play for,” and without thousands of people watching. It took me a while to realize how much of (insert any word you want here) I was being. It was only on a random Tuesday in June that I was put in my place, and I remember that day like it was yesterday.
During a conversation with an acquaintance, we were talking about a few of my college hockey experiences and his reaction to all of this was, “I wish I could have played college or even high school hockey for that matter.” Right then and there it hit me: This is a guy who never played college hockey but plays in two beer leagues, has only played hockey at the rec level, isn’t a very good skater but who LOVES the game. He never suited up for a championship game; he’s never played on an organized team, had a coach, or stayed in a hotel for a tournament. He didn’t have the money growing up. He pays for all of his own gear, his own league fees, as well as any other related expenses. He was a true hockey fan. It was only then that I realized I was looking at it all wrong. Rather than be depressed that my college hockey career was over, I should be excited to start the next chapter of my hockey life even if it wasn’t the pros. I could truly play for the love of the game. I didn’t have to work out; I didn’t have to come to the game dressed in a suit; I didn’t have to arrive an hour early; and the water was now replaced by beer. How can you not love this?
The league that I play in now is comprised of former NCAA Division 1 and Division 3 college hockey players (with a few former pros sprinkled in), and damn if it isn’t a great workout. We all had our moment in the sun and now we can talk about the old days while enjoying a new brotherhood—and a beer. The best part about it is that we’ve got six teams in our league, a Best-of-3 final, and a website that keeps stats for every player and every game. We play a 30-game season that starts in October and ends in March, and we even have a draft for new players at the beginning of the season.
This is no-joke rec hockey. And, ironically, I feel more pressure in these games than I did back in college. Why, you might ask? I think for most players in this league your past accomplishments precede you. The former pros and D1 players are expected to dominate and the college goalies are expected to steal games. (I hope nobody in my league reads this as I feel I have to put on a front every game, but I actually get nervous before these games!)
I’ve met so many great people playing rec hockey. Despite the amount of leagues and teams in my area, it really is a small community where there is a lot of crossover of players, trash talk about which league is best, and just plain all-around camaraderie. I have made some great business contacts and met people from all walks of life. There are those in their early- to mid-20s, fresh out of school; those of us in our early 30s with some good energy left; and those much older who are hang around just for the guys and beer.
Recreation: The word is defined by “an activity done for enjoyment when one is not working,” and that is exactly what recreational hockey means to me. There is no need to be ashamed of playing rec hockey, as I think a lot of younger players are. If you play competitively now and take just one thing from this story, don’t fall into my trap; don’t do what I did. Don’t stop playing the game because it’s not in front of a thousand people or because there are no college scouts in the stands, assessing your potential. Do you have any idea how many business executives and CEOs play rec hockey?
Playing recreational hockey could be the best business decision you ever make. So continue to play the game for the reasons you started to in the first place: For the love of the game. And the beer.
Frank Guiffre is the owner of Chase Hockey Inc., a hockey equipment retail store located in Clifton Park, NY. Chase Hockey specializes in team orders for individual teams, leagues, and associations.