Hometown Hockey – Good Fun and Serious Sports

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By Bill Burk

The first thing you notice is the bags. They’re huge, and you know they’re filled with more than gym shorts and shoes. Later, when you see Michelin Men on the ice you understand the need for the grand luggage. Hockey is a game of big equipment and big accessories.

My notebook and I were invited by Ken Lawton to the Shults Auto Adult Hockey League. Ken plays for the Harrows team, and promised a good sports story, that I wouldn’t be bored, and he promised there would be cold beverages. He was actually right on all three counts; the Shultz Auto Adult League is a hoot to watch and a good story about sports in Jamestown…more about the beverages later.

First there’s the venue. The Jamestown Savings Bank Arena is of course fantastic. I’ve heard people say it’s the kind of facility you’d find in a big city (ask someone who helped build it and they’ll tell you about the obscene amount of steel in it), as if we don’t deserve such a gem here. Those people have a low-scaled appreciation of this area and the passion we have for our games. The arena sits hard on the edge of true downtown, a sentinel guardian of the gates to a city that’s emerging. It’s something we richly deserve, and a model of what a city can offer to its citizens.

And on Sunday nights it hosts the Shults adult hockey league, a surprisingly refreshing and entertaining proposal. When I arrived there was a game finishing on one sheet of ice. The players looked good, with solid skating, stick handling, and passing (I later learned this was an open level game). I was duly impressed but I didn’t recognize Ken, which was not surprising since everyone looks the same in hockey gear. I moved through the concession stand to the second sheet of ice. Players warming up here were more tentative, some skating like they had sore feet and an inner ear problem. I remember Ken describing his start in the league, “The first couple of games, I forgot I was on skates. I started running.” That’s what I was looking at on this ice.  I had found the B game.

Everyone looks tall on skates, even the officials. Their heads are not an insignificant distance from the hard ice, and that’s all I could think of the first few minutes of the game; helmets or not, someone’s getting knocked out tonight.  This game was Lakewood Apothecary against Ken’s Harrows team. I was again impressed by the action and the sincerity of effort by the B league players. This was not a pick-up game of hockey. There was some crisp play and competition. Sure there was a lot of getting up off the ice, but also some really cool action. On one rush, I expected to see a pedestrian effort, maybe a weak wrister off goal, but the Harrows forward wound up and ripped a shot I could barely track across the ice. I was sure I’d see it in the back of the net, but the goalie snagged it neatly, having no problem with the speed or trajectory.  “Some of these guys can really play…probably belong in the A league” Ken told me. I believe he was right again.

According to Alan Maybach, a team captain, the league started back in the mid 90’s as the JAHL (Jamestown Adult Hockey League) with six teams. The league has grown to fourteen teams and more than 170 players, with six in the open (“A”) league comprised of more talented ex-high school and college players along with some recreational enthusiasts.  The B-league has eight teams made up of a handful of upper level skaters, but mostly a solid mix of average to novice and beginner players new to the game. Games start mid September, run through the end of March, and are played mostly Sunday evenings. Each team plays one game a week. Shults Auto Group sponsors the leagues. The league president is Paul Demler and league information can be found at www.jahl.us.

Maybach states, “The league is strictly meant to be a fun league, but as in any sport it is also competitive, everyone likes to win! Our league follows USA hockey rules, but we do modify some rules that are for the better of our league. It is a non check league (we all have jobs that we need to be at the next day), but there is a small amount of incidental contact…penalties are part of the game. We do have a fair amount of family, friends, and even non related watchers of our games.”

Kurt Silcott, JSB Arena Chief Executive Officer, says of the league, “We love having these guys in every Sunday.  They play some good hockey and enjoy a cold beverage in Sully’s after the game. We here at the Arena are proud that we can offer this opportunity to our community and encourage hockey players of all ages and levels to find their niche here at the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena.”

And there’s our cold beverage reference.

On this Sunday night there was a marked bump in the action after the first period, along with a significant spike in sweating.  Neither team had nearly enough substitutes in my opinion, thirty a side would seem reasonable for all the work they do. The final score was 4-3 in favor of Lakewood Apothecary. A spirited close game filled with action and drama. At a break between periods of the game, Ken breathlessly asked me, “The game is great isn’t it?  Would you call it entertaining?”

Yes, I would, Ken.  And the service at Sully’s isn’t bad either.