Monday, January 17, 2011

1-17-11: Professional Roller Hockey

On Saturday evening I attended a night of live American Inline Hockey League action at the Z-Rink in Glastonbury, CT. Myself and the lady went with two friends, who knew the owner of the Hartford Fire Ants, who were hosting the Beantown Athletics. I had never seen a professional roller hockey game before.

The game was certainly different than what I’m used to from ice hockey. Besides being played using roller blades (and no ice), roller hockey is 4 on 4, with no off-sides or icing, and no hitting. I could see why: the limited ability for players to stop and turn suddenly would make playing on-side hockey quite dangerous (players would either constantly run into each other or would destroy their knees trying to stop suddenly to stay on-sides). Without those rules in place, the flow felt a bit more like basketball than ice hockey. The other major difference was that, instead of playing three periods, the teams played two 15 minute halves with a short intermission in between. The equipment was very similar.

Since the league is semi-professional and the games are rather short, teams primarily play double-headers or small tournaments. Games are always on weekends (since most guys work full time). The Fire Ants won the first game in a shoot-out, which was entertaining. Boston then came back from 3-1 down in the second game to win 4-3, scoring three quick goals in the second half. Hartford looked good overall, and was happy to get a win out of the night.

I was happy to see a familiar face on the Beantown Athletics in James Wood, with whom I played a couple spring hockey seasons in Milford several years ago (9 and 10 to be exact). We chatted a bit after the game. He was new to the sport, and was still getting used to the different rules and playing style, but seemed to be catching on quickly.

After the game, we ate dinner at the Diamond Pub in Glastonbury along with most of the players. The bar gave a 10% discount to patrons with Fire Ants tickets stubs. Fun time.

I was surprised to learn from Jimmy, the friend of a friend who owns part of the Fire Ants, that the AIHL is quite large. Based in Orlando, Florida, the league consists of 41 teams in eight divisions throughout the country, at the professional level. There was also a second “minor league” tier consisting of roughly the same number of teams. Each team plays the other teams within its division at least twice, and the winners of each division play in the league championship in Orlando in the late spring timeframe (all games played in one weekend). The current champions are the Huntington Beach Elite from the Pacific South division. Some AIHL games are broadcast on ESPN3, with live streaming of games (announced by a member of the minor league affiliate) is available on some team websites, including the Hartford Fire Ants.

No comments: