Chances are, if you visit one of Farmington Hills two ice arenas, you will find boys and girls from 4 to 17 on the ice practicing and playing hockey. Although on a bit of a decline compared to 10 years ago, youth hockey in the Farmington Hills area is still vibrant with many active participants.
However, several hours after area hockey moms have their little ones tucked safely into bed, a visit to the Suburban Hockey Ice Arena will find a whole different kind of “kid” on the ice. The night I visited, these “kids” were all over 40 years of age. Welcome to the world of Adult Hockey Leagues. Or, as it is affectionately referred to in hockey circles, the “Beer Leagues”, because of the persistent rumor of the consumption of that particular beverage in the locker room after the game.
As youth hockey has seen a bit of a decline in recent years, participation in adult hockey in the Farmington / Farmington Hills area has been on the rise. Suburban Hockey Schools run several learn to play programs for adults as well as a couple of different adult leagues out of the Suburban Ice Arena. According to Suburban management, participation in their adult programs has continued to grow year after year since their inception. One of the longest running adult leagues in the area is the Farmington Hills Adult Hockey Association, (FHAHA) a draft league for players 40 and over.
Started in 1995, the FHAHA has experienced continued growth, with participation topping out at 16 teams this year, the highest level ever in their over 40 league. Each team has ten skaters and a goalie. Quick math shows that this year, there are 176 members participating in the league. Add to that the people on the substitute list and the number goes a tad north of 200.
What motivates this number of people over 40 years of age to play hockey at 11 p.m., knowing they have to get up and be at work the next morning? When asked, the answer was pretty much unanimous to a man, whether a Doctor or an auto worker, “Love of the game.”
With an average age of 53, the oldest player is 65, the FHAHA plays games twice a week. Early games start at 8:00 PM with the latest start time at 11:00 PM. Although the pace is a “little” slower than one might see in a youth game, you can tell the competitive spirit and desire to win is just as evident, maybe even more so.
Although officially a Non-Checking league, the competitive mindset is evident as bumping and grinding as players compete for the puck is quite common. Even the occasional collision happens an then play is stopped to make sure each players body parts are where they are supposed to be. After the players check out as OK, gloves are bumped and play resumes. Benches cheer with each goal scored and as with any hockey game, if an official misses a call or whistles a bad one, players and spectators alike let him know about it.
After spending two hours watching and talking to the players, I came away with the impression that this is truly a great group of guys with a love of hockey and the camaraderie that goes with it. A bonding that only someone that has played a team sport can understand. Oh, and when asked if they really do drink beer in the locker room after the game in these “Beer Leagues”, a veteran player well in his fifties replied with a wink, “The replacement of electrolytes is very important in this sport.”
For more information about the Farmington Hills Adult Hockey League, you can visit their website at www.FHAHA.com.
-- by Bryce Berger