I’ve barely taken a seat on some very low-rise bleachers at the McDevitt basketball court when an orange hockey ball ricochets off of the boards directly under my feet. Two opposing players charge after it, panting and jousting with sticks a couple feet away. Their sneakers squeak on the wood floor as they try to dig out the ball. It’s my welcome to the East Falls McDevitt Mens Hockey League.
I lean back to avoid the stick handle of one guy and reach out to break the fall of the other as he loses balance and lands on my foot. For a few seconds I’ve got the best seat in the house. It’s a free seat of course — it is a men’s recreational hockey league after all.
But don’t tell these guys it isn’t serious. They bang into each other, sprint the length of the court, muscle for faceoffs, and even fall to the ground to break up a play or redirect a shot. From courtside, you can see the sweat and hear them huffing and puffing.
They don’t go easy on the jokes either — “Hey, you shoot like a girl” — or the celebration when they score. A few shouts and fist bumps all around. Even a brief smile, then it’s right back for another faceoff.
The game is ball hockey and the equipment is fairly simple (if you’re not a goalie). Hockey gloves, shin guards, a good pair of sneakers, and a stick is enough to get started. The jerseys (and team names) come mostly from professional teams–tonight it’s the Nordiques versus the Islanders.
And the Islanders are getting the worst of it.
I haven’t been there more than a few minutes before its 3-0. The Nordiques push the action and seem to always have a couple players buzzing goalie Brian Groth.
He works angles, goes to the floor repeatedly, even lunges sideways to block shots, but eventually the ball snaps the net behind him 4, 5, 6 times and counting. Hard to imagine he isn’t pissed behind the goalie mask, but he never yells or calls out his defenseman. He just gets up and gets ready for the next shot.
The Islanders finally answer at the other end, Head Coach (and Islanders’ all-time leading scorer) Tom McNicholas backhands home a rebound off of goalie Brian Sannicandro, but by then it’s 7-1 and the game is out of reach. (Sannicandro, who was on the verge of his first shutout of the season, channels his inner Hextall, shouting a few choice expletives, directed at no one in particular.)
Afterwards, McNicholas is apologetic that the game wasn’t more competitive (the final score is 8-1), but he doesn’t dwell on it either. For him, the league is what matters. They’ve been playing for years at McDevitt and McNicholas wishes more people knew about all the programs they offer there.
“People don’t realize how much good stuff goes on here. And not just for the kids. We do men’s leagues too–we’ve got a soccer and a basketball league here. It’s such a great place to play. And the guys have a good time with it. I just wish more people knew about it.”
Although there aren’t as many members as they’re used to be, the league still draw players from as far away as King of Prussia and Royersford. Some are neighborhood guys who’ve moved away and come back to catch up with old friends.
But it isn’t just local guys. “Anybody can sign up,” says McNicholas. “There’s no boundaries about where you live. We want as many guys as possible. It’s more fun that way.”
Although it’s too late to sign up for hockey, you still have time to see plenty more games (they play three games almost every Tuesday night from now until February 3).
I recommend the bleachers for the best view of the action.
Want to get involved? Whether it’s kids or adults, they’ve probably got something for you. Call the McDevitt Recreation Center (215-685-2197) to find out more.