It is 11 p.m. on a Tuesday. The City of Evanston is fairly quiet. Most people are in their homes, children are tucked in bed, but the lights are still ablaze at the Robert Crown Ice Rink. A group of men have just begun a heated game of hockey, despite the fact most of them need to wake up early the next morning to get to work or to get children off to school.
But for right now there is no work and there are no children. There is only a puck and a net. As the players skate effortlessly across the ice, passing the puck to one another, an unsuspecting observer would be hard pressed to imagine the thinning hair or graying sideburns that lie hidden beneath their helmets.
This is the Evanston Adult Hockey League, a recreational league that began five years ago as an offshoot of the Youth Hockey Program at Robert Crown. In March of 2005 the coach of the youth program, Don Howard, began to offer an instructional hockey class for the parents of the children he was coaching: no experience needed. The class became so popular it eventually broke off into teams, and a few of the players decided they would run the program themselves.
“We had four teams at the time,” says Andy Dickerson, an energy broker with no prior hockey experience and one of the men who took over the league. “We put together a schedule and we’ve been playing ever since.”
The league has evolved over the years. What once consisted primarily of novice players now includes players of varying skill levels. About 90 players make up the six teams. Mr. Dickerson says the games have gotten faster and more competitive, but the players’ goal has stayed the same: to get some exercise, improve a skill and have fun.
In order to keep the teams balanced and fair, a no-checking rule is enforced, as is a two-line rule that means play will be stopped when an individual carries the puck forward, crossing both of the blue lines without having lost control of the puck or having passed it to a teammate. The intent is to encourage players to pass the puck while advancing toward the opposing team’s zone.
The late-night time slots are necessitated by a crowded schedule of younger team games and practices at Robert Crown, but the men do not seem to mind.
“I love it,” says Jon Levy, a team captain and one of the original members of the league. “When you get to be a certain age, exercise can become tedious. Playing hockey is a great way to stay fit in a fun and competitive environment.”
The league is not run by the City of Evanston, so new members typically join through word of mouth. There has been some discussion of starting another instructional class, as there was in the beginning, in order to attract more beginner players.
Mr. Dickerson says he believes the league is unique: It does not keep track of team standings or individual statistics, and it strives to create an environment that provides for healthy competition and good sportsmanship.
“Sharing a beer with our opponents after the game is as important as what happens on the ice,” says Mr. Dickerson.
Mr. Levy says being a part of the league for the past five years has been a great pleasure.
“Most of the guys in the league have become friends to the point that we joke around with each other,” says Mr. Levy. “You don’t get that in most men’s sports leagues. It is truly like a little social club and maybe even a good cure for a mid-life crisis.”