For most people in Homer, cold weather suggests that it might be time to stop hanging around the Spit for the season.
But at the Kevin Bell Arena, winter winds this weekend meant the fun was just beginning.
More than 50 people from all over Alaska plunged onto the frozen rink on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to participate in the Homer Hockey Association’s third annual Adult Coed Jamboree.
More than half the players were from out of town, lured to Homer from as far away as Juneau by the siren song of teamwork and an all-around good time. All participants were registered U.S. Hockey members, but skill levels ranged from former college players to people who’d just picked up a stick a few years ago. With equal numbers of men and women and players aged 22 to 55, the tournament was a change of pace for most athletes present, said Charlie Stewart, chair of the rink’s advisory board.
“Everyone has an image of hockey as this” — he grunted and flexed his arms aggressively — “and you’ve gotta fight for it in the corners. And it’s like that in coed, but there’s also this respect. When you see that someone’s not as good as someone else, you give them space to participate,” he said.
When they registered for the tournament, all players ranked themselves based on skill level. Then HHA Vice President Jan Rumble worked to combine experienced players and amateurs to create five evenly matched teams: the End of the Roaders, Spit Rats, East End Moose, Kachemak High Stickers and the Diamond Ridge Danglers.
Heather Strickland has been playing hockey on and off for 20 years. The 36-year-old goalie from Anchorage played in the tournament last year, and said she came back because she thinks the diverse teams bring excitement to the game.
“You never really know what’s gonna happen. You’re on a team with people of such broad levels of skill and people you don’t know and you just have fun,” she said.
That’s the point of the tournament, according to Rumble. Other tournaments are all about winning; this one focused on fair play and new friendships. A special tourney-wide rule increased the egalitarian nature of play: each team member was only allowed to score once per game until everyone on the team had gotten a goal.
“It really encourages team play, passing, working as a team and not necessarily grandstanding,” Rumble explained.
The rule kept scores relatively tight – only one game ended with a four-point differential – but it didn’t mean the games weren’t competitive.
As the goalie for the East End Moose, Strickland faced off against some guys she plays with in Anchorage.
“I really did not want them to score on me,” she said. “They wanted to have that little moral victory and I didn’t let them.”
She said it was fun to see new faces mixed in with the familiar ones, hockey players from all over the state in one place. Now when she plays in other tournaments, she’ll have friends on other teams.
With Strickland in goal, the East End Moose won the tournament undefeated. The Spit Rats came in second, ending the tournament’s last game with a tie against the Kachemak High Stickers.
Between games, players hung out in the locker rooms or sat on the bleachers with warm mugs of tea to watch the competition. After a match, Charlie Stewart swapped his Spit Rat jersey for a sweatshirt and headed to the Snack Shack to make burritos for East End Moose Cori Kalmes and Vince Ferenczy of Anchorage.
Between bites, Ferenczy praised the good attitudes of players on the ice – and the facilities.
“This whole rink is just amazing – the fact that it’s all volunteer. I’ve been around a few rinks and this is as good one,” he said.
Volunteers made the tournament possible, running the Snack Shack, coordinating teams and keeping score. The man who maintains the rink is paid, as are his two part-time assistants, but everyone else involved with the arena works without compensation. Rumble estimated that between organizing tournaments, running practices, and coordinating youth and adult hockey, curling, and figure skating, HHA and KBA board members put in 14,000 hours of volunteer work each season.
So this weekend’s tournament also provided an important fundraising opportunity. Each player paid $85 to participate. The HHA puts on a golf tournament and an auction each year, but Stewart says getting people out on the ice is their favorite way to raise money. That’s why everyone is there, after all.
“A lot of people drive past the rink and just don’t come in because they don’t play hockey or don’t skate,” he said. “People should just feel free to come in and check it out. It’s a friendly, safe environment.”
After the last game on Saturday, players left the competition on the ice and headed to the Salty Dawg for a banquet and Halloween party.
Rumble said the tournament was a big success. And she’s already looking ahead:
“Next year,” she said, “the goal is to add yet another team and attract a greater number of visitors to our beautiful town and wonderful rink at the end of the road.”
Annie Rosenthal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.