Adult league hockey is a microcosm of society.
Accountants jostle with fishing guides. Doctors skate next to horse trainers. Players who look like they haven't started shaving share the rink with septuagenarians. Women and men are on equal, if slippery, footing.
Welcome to the Magic City Adult Hockey League, where you can learn the sports’ basics or play with a former pro or two at Centennial Ice Arena.
“If you can skate a little bit, we throw you right into the league. It’s the best way to learn,” said league President Kris Brester.
The competition is fierce enough to spark an occasional fight, but the atmosphere is Bud Light-on-the-bench relaxed.
“They’ll chip and they’ll talk at each other on the ice, but as soon as they’re done, they’re sharing a beer,” said Jasen Molm.
Molm was score keeping for a Thursday night matchup in the advanced league, a group of teams made of up players who usually have junior or collegiate experience. He plays in the recreation league, as he didn’t pick up hockey until he got out of the Marines and finished nursing school.
“I had the money and I had the time, so I said, 'Let’s do it,'” he said.
Hockey isn’t the cheapest sport, but used gear typically has a significant discount. Each team in the Magic City league has a sponsor, and players pay a fee — it costs about $370 for the league to host a game between costs for referees, score keeping and ice time.
There are advantages to learning the sport as a kid; “5-year-olds, they don’t think about falling on the ice,” Brester said.
But adults who haven’t learned that hockey pads blunt the impact of hard ice?
“They’re thinking, 'I gotta go to work tomorrow,'” he said.
Some players are retired, past thinking about waking up for a job in the morning. The league has two elder statesmen, both 78.
For those who do need to wake up early — Molm's up at 5:15 a.m. — a 9:30 p.m. start time is less than ideal. But it's better than previous years, when games would start about an hour later.
The league is co-ed but male dominated. About a dozen women now play; when Brester took over as president 10 years ago, only two played. The league has also expanded from five teams to 12 in that time.
The hockey community, while not huge in Billings, is tight-knit. When hard times fall on someone, the league often hosts a fundraiser, as they’re planning for Shane Acedo, a Billings man who’s out this season while he undergoes treatment for a rare immune disorder.
Compassion is also expressed in backhanded ways. The adult league uses adult language, and there’s no lack of ribbing.
Jade Binder of Team Brester landed himself in the penalty box in the game’s early minutes for tripping. In hockey, players whistled for a penalty are pulled off the ice for a small amount of time, leaving their team down a player.
“You’re in the box already, huh,” said teammate Ian Frank as he joined the bench a few minutes late, adding a few choice words.
A minute later, another teammate joined the bench.
“Already?” said J.J. Gustin, who would earn himself a couple minutes in the penalty box later in the game.
“You guys always score short-handed when I’m in here,” Binder protested.
They didn’t. Team Wagner jumped out to an early lead in the first period and, despite a second-period rally by Team Brester, would go on to win 7-4.
After the first period, when already down, Team Brester was trying to rally the troops during the two-minute break between periods.
“What do you need?” a player snapped at Binder as he reached over the boards toward the bench.
“PBR,” Binder said, taking a swig of Pabst Blue Ribbon — Gatorade, perhaps, for the rec-league hockey soul.