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Late Night Legends of Adult Hockey

By Dave Pond, 03/15/21, 10:30AM MDT

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When Dan Hassler moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2018, one of the first things he did was seek out a place to lace up his skates and get back to playing adult league hockey. He quickly found the Winterhawks Skating Center in nearby Beaverton, where adult skaters make up 44 teams across five divisions, including one division solely for players aged 35+.

But no matter who you play for, prepare to play late. With Winterhawk’s earliest adult league games starting at 9:40 and a second set beginning at 11:05, Hassler and other players tip off late at night and stay at the rink until the early morning — no matter if school, work or life awaits just a few hours later.

“I’ve been dealing with the schedule for three years, and I still haven’t gotten used to it,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve tried napping before the game, but it often does more harm than good – either I don’t want to wake up to leave, or it takes extra long for me to wind down after a game.”

It’s All Worth It

Hassler admits the adjustment has been easier for him than it might be for others — after all, he’s a 25-year hockey vet who previously played in adult leagues in Austin, Texas, and Boise, Idaho, before moving to the Beaver State.

“Going to the extremes to play is nothing new for me,” said Hassler, who spends his time away from the rink as a supply chain analyst. “Youth hockey involved multiple trips a week to the rink an hour away from home, college club hockey involved a lot of late-night practices and long bus rides, and the Boise adult league required a two-hour drive each way for me to play an hour-long game.

“Now that I’m in Portland, we deal with very late start times, but it’s all worth it to me,” he continued. “I feel very thankful for the coaches I had growing up (most notably John Hughes). They always made it fun so that I never got burnt out. As a result, hockey is still my favorite hobby.”

Great Way to End the Day

The Winterhawks Skating Center adult league operates year-round, with three seasons per year. Each adult league team plays one game a week, and every season includes more than a dozen games (plus playoffs.) Hassler, who plays in both Division 1 and Division 2 — with the Blades and the Little Cuties, respectively — said that the late-night action isn’t ever something that “feels” normal.

“I don’t think too many players ever get used to going to the rink for an 11:05 game, but people always show up,” Hassler said. “When the games are early in the week — Division 1 plays on Monday nights — it makes for a tough start to the week, and the benches are usually a little less full.

“As the weekend gets closer, the late times seem to affect players less,” he continued. “For example, the Thursday-night teams usually have a full roster, and there’s a lot more energy since the weekend is right around the corner.”

That doesn’t mean that the players don’t appreciate the opportunity to get out and skate.

“It’s a little absurd to play hockey so late, especially when you factor in the time it takes to wind down after a game, but we still consistently show up because we enjoy hanging out and playing the game,” Hassler said. “The games are a great way to end the day and get your mind off work and everything else that goes into the day; it’s fun to be around the team, and the exercise feels good at night.”

Late Night Benefits

One advantage of having the late games, Hassler said, is that you don’t have to worry about missing a game because of a work meeting or any other life commitment.

“By the time we start playing, everything else is done for the day, so it creates a stress-free environment,” he said. “Additionally, we’re the last ones at the rink, so you get to have the place to yourselves and just hang out with a bunch of your friends for a bit.”

And, when teammates don’t make it out for a late game, that means more playing time for those who do.

“It’s not uncommon — particularly early in the week — for a team to only have seven or eight players,” Hassler said. “Most of the time, that’s my favorite, because you get so much extra ice time.”

Never Gets Old

With so many teams and so many leagues around the country, there’s room for everyone to come back to hockey or give the sport a shot for the first time. That’s the beauty of adult hockey.

“I think most new players would be surprised by how little the late games affect their daily lives,” Hassler said. “When you’re making a sacrifice for a hobby and something you enjoy, it requires less effort than you’d think.

“The sacrifice is always worth it. There are a lot of nights where I’m upset that I have to go to the rink so late, but once I’m at the rink, I never have any regrets. I enjoy being around my teammates, and playing the game is still just as fun as it was when I was a kid.”

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