It’s surprising to see grown men at Kiwanis Ice Rink ready to play hockey without a face cage. A lot of hockey players play without them because they think that the cage constricts their peripherals. It’s a claim that may not stand up to scrutiny, but hockey players aren’t the only athletes that eschew restrictions: many basketball players refuse to play in short sleeves because they feel they restrict shoulder motion, and lots of baseball players refuse to play with batting gloves even though doing so makes it easier to grip the bat and avoid stingers.
But a face cage is a matter of safety, and even at the level of the Saugerties Hockey League, rife with pentagenarians and laid-back beer-league sports junkies, a puck to the dome is likely to do some irrevocable damage.
If you’re a hockey player, though, that doesn’t matter. You just accept that you’ll likely never be prettier than you were the second before you stepped onto the ice.
Exchange Hotel is on the board, 1-0, after only a minute and a half.
They’re noticeably younger and faster than their counterparts, the Mirabella’s Pineapples, and there is a Bad News Bears vibe permeating the game. Exchange is wearing handsome black Los Angeles Kings-inspired sweaters, right down to the shield patch on the shoulder, which instead of a crown in the lower part contains a pair of sloshing beer mugs.
The Pineapples’ uniform isn’t so intimidating; a large M formed by a fork and spoon on a grass-green background. Dean Palen, a self-described “old guy” who, by the third period, is doing his honest best to shuffle around the rink, gave me a quick history lesson on the team name before the game.
“We used to be Pineapple Express, we really liked the name,” he said. “But then we got sponsored by Mirabella’s – make sure you don’t screw the names up, there’s another Mirabella’s team in the league, just Mirabella’s.”
Then he runs back into the locker room.
“Guys, there’s press here!”
A few minutes after the first goal, Exchange nets another goal to go up 2-0.
The Saugerties Hockey League has been around for 13 years. There are six teams: Mirabella’s, Mirabella’s Pineapples, Exchange Hotel (full name: Exchange Hotel / Naccarato Ins. / Ward Backhaus Coll.), Honey Badgers, Red Hawks, and Raptors, and it draws players from as far away as Albany.