While most people are getting ready to settle in for the evening, Mark West, 35, checks his pads and tape, and laces up his ice skates for an 8:30 p.m. hockey game.
West, a graphic designer by day, plays ice hockey with the Red Hawks, one of the many adult hockey teams that play late at night at the City Ice Pavilion in Long Island City.
West lives in Brooklyn, but has been playing hockey since he was a teenager in Hillsboro, New Jersey, where rinks are not nearly as difficult to come across as in the city. So he goes at night once a week to enjoy the sport of his youth, despite the awkward timing.
“If you put on skates and try it, you know why,” West said. “You fall in love with it instantly.”
The adult hockey leagues bring men of all ages and backgrounds, almost all of whom work full-time, to play night ice hockey, with games that start as late as 10 p.m.
Teams are broken into divisions according to relative skill level, with Division 1 representing the facility’s elite and Division 4 catering to those who are not as competitive.
But experience doesn’t matter so long as you fit into the accepting, respectful culture.
The players’ rabid desire to skate, pass and shoot is what binds them, and is what keeps a fraternal atmosphere in the facility.
“Everyone who plays in the league is friends with almost everyone else,” said Patrick Jones, the adult hockey coordinator at the facility. “Each division is highly competitive, some more than others, but everybody is mostly focused on development and ice time.”
Most of the players’ backgrounds are completely different. But when they are on the ice they all become hockey players.
“It’s interesting to see investment bankers playing on the same team with guys who can hardly afford equipment,” Jones said. “Everyone feels at home here.”
The league costs $4,845 for a 10-game season, which includes a single elimination playoff for those teams skilled enough to make it. The matter of equipment is as fraternal as the sport itself — much of it is donated and shared throughout the hockey community.
“We make this gear available to customers at no cost and encourage brand new players to come skate in our gear before committing to the sport,” Jones said.
The men play for the fun of it, and for the opportunity to prove to themselves that they are the best in their division. There are no big contracts and at least on most nights, no fans. But occasionally a girlfriend may appear.
Nina Iyala, whose boyfriend, Steven Williams, plays on the Red Hawks, recently attended a game to cheer on her man. The couple is from Rockland County, but Williams was asked to play in Queens by a friend.
“They love hockey so much they jumped at the chance,” she said.
Nick Raz, an electrician who also plays for the Red Hawks, came to play midnight hockey from Rockland County as well. He returns home at 11:30 p.m. after games.
“We all try to play as much as we can, which usually works out to about four times per week,” Raz said. “I’m going to play until my knees give out.”
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