The buzzer blares, wrapping up a championship game between two teams of the Apollo League, the top level of play at the Rink Exchange’s adult recreation play. After three periods of action-packed hockey, a makeshift Stanley Cup-like trophy is brought out to PBR, who just defeated the Red Hooks 4-2.
The team briefly poses on ice for a photo and takes the trophy back into the locker room, where they pour Pabst Blue Ribbon into the bowl. A few players take gulps.
But PBR doesn’t get a lot of alone time with the award. The trophy is going to be handed over to the champion of one of the other skill level leagues. And the bragging rights are short, because the following season is just a week away and team rosters will be reshuffled.
The teams have beer-related names like Oakshire, Rogue, Agrarian and Montucky because years ago breweries would pitch in for uniforms and even postgame beer. Times have changed, but the hockey and beer is still there.
Breweries aren’t as active financially with the league nowadays, but each team designates a player to bring beer for the team. Even people in the audience bring something to warm up while inside the chilly rink: I once saw a group bring champagne and orange juice to a game.
In fact, Andy Batson of PBR says he had a beer before the championship game to get his attention away from the stakes.
Batson tells me they couldn’t defeat the Red Hooks during the regular season games, so beating them for the championship was sweet. But win or lose, he says, the atmosphere is pretty joyful.
Although hockey is known for bodies getting hit hard, blood bouncing on the ice and the occasional fight, games at the Rink Exchange are cleaner — for example, players can’t slam each other against the rink’s wall to get possession of the puck.
At the lower skill levels, that sometimes means the game is more individual; faster skaters who can maintain possession of the puck aggressively skate toward the net to make a shot. But at the Apollo Level, players rely more on passing than a slap shot and a prayer to make goals.
Playing hockey in the community is a laidback experience, and beer is a part of the community, Batson says. He says he’s played with and against other players who are in their 60s and 70s.
“Their footwork isn’t the best, but they still have good stick control,” he says. But when playing against older athletes, he tells himself that he hopes to be playing hockey when he’s older, too.
The Apollo League sports some higher skilled players who have played for the UO club sports team or for the Eugene Generals, but the recreation league is friendly to those who haven’t even strapped on skates before.
Batson says he has a friend who just started playing in the lower levels of the league despite recently learning to use a hockey stick while skating. Maybe it was the tall boy I drank beforehand and the postgame PBR with the champs talking, but when I hear this, I consider signing up for hockey despite going ice-skating only once in my life.
As I’m talking with Batson inside the locker room, in between gulps of beer, his teammates are roasting him about his missed shot at an open net goal when the opposing team pulled their goalie to bring on an extra player in the final moments of the game. He laughs, saying they’re forgetting that he’s the one who made the game-winning goal.
But about that missed open net goal?
He tells me that he meant to pass the puck to another player so he could log a goal. But he jokingly paraphrases a quote from Al Iafrate, a retired NHL player — open net goals are for pussies.
The Rink Exchange’s Adult Recreation games are Sundays, starting from 9:30 am to 8:15 pm, and are free. For the complete spring 2020 schedule of The Rink Exchange’s Adult Recreation, visit TheRinkExhchange.com.