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A recreational hockey league offers a place to hit the ice, unwind

Friday, Aug. 25, 2006
by Steve Berberich
Staff Writer
The Montgomery County Gazette

One by one, the Sloths and the Red Army drifted into the Rockville Ice Arena Wednesday evening to face off, escaping the heat and humidity outside for a cool game of gentleman’s hockey — for businessmen.

It’s fast, but not furious. There is no slamming of opponents against the glass. There is no fighting. There is no cursing the referees. Nobody wants to get hurt. The point is just to have some fun and grab a beer and burger after the game.

The recreational Ice Pack hockey league was formed in March by Gary Rosenfeld, CFO of the Myer Emco Inc. of Gaithersburg, a chain of electronics products stores.

‘‘We have attorneys, physicians, builders and shop owners. We even had the priest from St. John’s Episcopal Church across from the White House,” Rosenfeld said, as he stood rinkside in his white-and-green Ice Turtles hockey sweater while the Sloths and Red Army bumped and skated. The Turtles would be matched against The Larry’s that night.

The four teams play each other every Wednesday, year-round, after the youth hockey league teams finish up, Rosenfeld said. Standings, leading scorers, injury reports, extensive rules and a newsletter are posted on the league Web site.

Doug Briskman, a mental health professional by day — and, by night, number 44 on the Sloths — arrived at the arena with his young daughter under one arm and, like the other players, with an enormous gym bag of hockey equipment under the other.

‘‘It’s just a bunch of guys whose kids skate or who used to skate as a kid themselves, like me, and are just interested in some exercise,” Briskman said. ‘‘Why not this? I grew up in Bethesda and skated at the Cabin John Ice Rink as a kid.

‘‘We founded this league because at time a lot of the leagues were very aggressive and violent,” Briskman said. ‘‘We started this league as a no-contact league, sort of. It is not as aggressive.”

In the cramped, stale-air of the locker room before the game, the Sloths strapped and taped on bulky pads and oversized pants. Like most athletes, they needled each other incessantly with constant laughter, as they creaked from bench to bench on their skates.

But after donning their black team hockey sweaters and hitting the ice, the Sloths skated beautifully, even gracefully at times.

Some of the older Sloths, in their late 40s and 50s, call the younger Barrie McKenna a ‘‘ringer” because he hails from Montreal and is an excellent player. McKenna is a Washington correspondent for The Globe and Mail of Toronto.

The team was confident. Also dressing was Dr. Stephane Corriveau, a plastic surgeon originally from Montreal, another ‘‘ringer,” they said. And among the younger Sloths were Tom Lyons, president of Computer Installations Etc. in Clarksville, and Ted Sears, an environmental consultant with Washington law firm. All players in the league must be at least 21 years old.

David Sabourin is 64. The retired builder, who has played hockey for 35 years, was first out of the locker room, walking briskly to the rink. A skilled defenseman, Sabourin said he also plays frequently in the over-60 Gerihatrick League.

‘‘We only have two teams — not enough players in the Gerihatricks,” Sabourin said. ‘‘So we find tournaments for older guys” in northern cities such as Syracuse, N.Y., he said. Some players are in their 80s.

Paul McKenzie of the Red Army skated off with teammate Gary Ivers, a professor of government at American University, when …

‘‘Do you see the names on their backs? That’s written in Cyrillic, a Russian language, on their shirts,” said John Holbrooke of the Sloths.

‘‘I can sound out Cyrillic. I know the phonics,” said Holbrooke, who works for U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Sloths got to their bench after a brief skate around and immediately begin to bark ideas to each other on strategy, though only about half the players were listening at any one time. ‘‘Find out who is playing left wing and right wing,” one shouted. Then, ‘‘Are there two centers?”

Briskman laughed and said, ‘‘You’ve noticed we have no coaches?”

Left-winger Glen Hellman, CEO of the IntelliPark parking meter company in Bethesda by day, fussed that only nine Sloths showed, not enough for three lines and defensemen.

‘‘They will each have to play harder,” he snapped. Normally there are15 to 18 players on a team.

‘‘Tonight is the rubber match with each team, the Ice Sloths and the Red Army each winning one of the two previous meetings. We have to take ’em today,” Hellman said.

The talk was nothing but pure hockey once the game begins. The idea, after all, is to leave business in the office.

‘‘Hey, this goalie’s pretty good,” a Sloth said of the Red Army’s warrior in net, followed in two seconds by the Sloths’ first goal, between the goalie’s legs.

The game began at 8:20 p.m., with the temperature 61 degrees at rinkside. The first of three 15-minute periods ended in a flurry of shots on the Sloths’ goal. ‘‘Yeah, Steve. Nice save. Nice job,” came shouts from the bench. Score tied at 2.

The team’s goalie, Steve Fleishman, owns two restaurants, Bethesda Bagels and What’s a Bagel in Cleveland Park in the District. He was upset during the five-minute break between periods.

‘‘Most of their goals are second and third shots,” Fleishman scolded his teammates. ‘‘We’re not doing something right on defense, guys!” But the Sloths seemed reluctant to listen to the guy with bagels painted on his helmet.

The players discussed coverages and the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing players. Another Sloth yelled, ‘‘You guys play like you have your sticks up your ——-. We need to work harder.” With no coaches, strategies changes as often as front lines pop in and out of the metal gate at the bench.

As the Sloths-Red Army game ended in a 7-all tie, Rosenfeld, 43, was pleased as he sat next to the scorer’s bench. The scorers, in fact, are the players’ teenage children, who also laugh and joke as their fathers fall down or miss a shot.

Rosenfeld justified the late Wednesday night ritual.

‘‘After the next game, my team sets up a grill outside. It is late enough that our wives don’t give us a hard time, you know. It is too late to help kids with the homework or anything at home. Most of us have kids who play, too.”

Whereas a youth league — be it soccer, Little League baseball or hockey — Rosenfeld said, usually has a snack list for parents to take turns bringing snacks, ‘‘We have a beer list of who will bring the beer. Instead of who’s bringing the apple juice, it’s who’s bringing the beer.”