It’s impossible to be in a bad mood around Ace Malette.
The commissioner of the Greater Portland Industrial Hockey League, an adult hockey league in Maine, is laid-back, affable, quick to laugh, and incredibly passionate about hockey.
“This sport is awesome; I don’t like any other sport,” he said. “I’ve tried to like them. Hockey has the best of all worlds. The speed, the competitiveness, the tenacity of the players. It’s as close to a perfect game as you can get.”
Malette helped to consolidate and streamline adult hockey leagues in Maine, ultimately starting the GPIHL in 2005. The league plays in winter and summer and has had up to 40 teams at a time.
A Level 4 certified USA Hockey coach, he’s helmed youth teams, served as a goalie and power skating coach and made the connection that led to him taking over management of adult leagues while officiating games after college.
For his passion and commitment to the adult game in Maine, Malette has been recognized with the John Beadle Adult Member of the Year Award. The award is presented to someone who makes tireless contributions to the hockey community as an adult player or volunteer. In 2020, it was renamed in honor of John Beadle, who served as vice president of USA Hockey and chair of the organization’s Adult Council for 27 years.
“It was shocking,” Malette said about learning he’d be given the award. “I've been around hockey my whole life, from coaching to playing, and this is the craziest thing that's ever happened. I'm very humbled by it, by even being mentioned in the group of past winners.”
Running an adult league is often a thankless job that comes with plenty of complaints, few compliments and a large time commitment, but Malette said he views adult hockey as absolutely integral to the future of the sport.
While most of the focus from associations is on youth hockey, those years are a small portion of someone’s hockey-playing years. Malette said there is — and needs to be — a synergy between adult and youth hockey where they feed off and influence each other. Parents who play hockey as adults might influence their kids to play. Adults who have to spend a lot of time in a rink watching their children might find a new love for and a commitment to hockey if they play themselves.
“I think the stronger the adult game is, the stronger the youth game is and vice versa,” Malette said. “A strong hockey community is what is needed. Not just youth. Not just national teams. Those are all important. But it’s all of it together that is vital for a successful USA Hockey.”
He is also always aware that rinks are the lifeblood of hockey. If there are no rinks, the sport suffers, he said, and he is constantly trying to find a balance between serving rinks and helping them to be successful and sustainable while also serving the players in his league.
Most youth and school leagues tend to run from September to April or so, making ice time during those months even more difficult to get, but outside those months, the rink is all but empty. It’s feast or famine, Malette said. Often, adult leagues are relegated to late nighttime slots that can make it difficult to recruit and retain players.
“I saw a desire and a need for adult hockey throughout the year,” he said. “Not only the need for the players, but adult hockey seems to fill voids at rinks to make them more successful. In order for rinks to succeed, they need groups to go year-round.”
The GPIHL runs leagues in both winter and summer. During each season, a team’s day and time to play stays consistent. In the summer, there are no games on the weekend. Their schedule can’t suit everyone, but the league has found a balance where they have a core of teams and players that return season after season.
“The constant push and pull of running an adult league is making sure you're doing right for the rink, because the rink is the most important part of hockey in general,” Malette said. “And I need to do my best to appease the customers who are in essence why we do this. So, there is some back and forth and tug of war.”
The push and pull might wear on some people, but Malette takes it in stride. Hockey is a game, he said. It’s entertainment and enjoyment. It may feel like life or death for the hour a player is on the ice, but when it’s over, it really doesn’t matter. He plays in the league himself and said he hears plenty of chirping about the schedule, the refs and really anything else people can complain about.
“It doesn't bother me and I’m certainly not going to let it ruin hockey for me,” he said. “I think every part of running a hockey league is interesting. Whether it be good interesting or bad interesting, it's just all interesting. It’s a fabulous study on social dynamics. It’s awesome. I love the game of hockey. Every part of it is comical. You can get every emotion in one game of hockey. On one Friday night in the wintertime, you could go through every emotion possible in one hour of ice time.”
That affability and willingness to take in complaints and mostly let them roll off his back is part of what makes Malette such a good advocate for adult hockey. He chooses to prioritize his love for hockey and passion for ensuring the future of the game over negativity and unhappiness. He views himself as fortunate to still be playing and lucky to have created a league where people from all walks of life come together for a bit each week to play hockey, chirp each other and bond as a team.
“I think that stuff is so secondary to the camaraderie and the friendships you forge at the rink on Friday nights,” he said. “You forge a bond and you're together for at least a couple hours a week. It doesn't get any better than that.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.