When B.J. Lentz joined Pinball Pete’s, the adult hockey team was already established. However, it was falling apart.
Pinball Pete’s got its start in 1994, and the club is still going strong with four teams and over 50 members playing in leagues in and around Lansing, Michigan.
“They almost died, I’m not going to candy-coat it,” said Lentz, who is the captain of the club that plays in both mid-Michigan leagues at the Suburban Ice East Lansing and The Summit Sports and Ice Complex. “Most beer league teams die, there’s nothing you can do about it. Guys get old, they move away. But Pinball Pete’s always finds a way to rebuild, it has been around for 25 years now. I don’t see it dying.”
It’s been a gradual process to build the club. When Lentz started playing with Pinball Pete’s 11 years ago, he was joined by a handful of his teammates who played for the Lansing Community College Division III club hockey team. Many other players have trickled in and out over the years, but the core has stayed intact for a decade.
“We have our veterans and occasionally we add a rookie, usually someone’s friend or brother,” Lentz said.
Without much turnover on the Pinball Pete’s Gold team, the guys have gotten to know each other very well over the years.
“It helps us build some chemistry and we do cycle guys through the different teams occasionally,” said Jay Laing, who plays for Pinball Pete’s Gold team as well as the Elite squad.
Pinball Pete’s, which is a video arcade business in East Lansing and Ann Arbor, still has some of its original team members playing. The owner “Ziff” and his friends make up the majority of the club’s 40+ Silver squad. Assistant captains Jim Barrett, Mike Suggs and Jason Edick have been a major part of the club’s success over the years.
After semi-retiring from playing hockey, Laing wanted to get back on the ice four years ago. He contacted Lentz and joined Pinball Pete’s.
Laing, who played college hockey at Division III Utica College, is happy he landed with an exceptional group of guys.
“It really is a family atmosphere, I guess,” Laing said. “We do a lot of things away from the rink together as well. A lot of the guys have been there a lot longer than I have, but they’re very welcoming and I was a part of the team right out of the chute. It’s been a really great experience, really great time.”
There are a lot of ties that bind the players together on Pinball Pete’s. The guys’ wives and girlfriends have been very supportive and involved with the team. Four sets of brothers are on the team. Lentz’s sister is married to one of his teammates, and the guys love getting together for family functions.
“The team is deep, though,” Lentz said. “It’s like ‘The Matrix,’ it’s more than one level. It’s a mix of the new stuff and the old college guys and this third mix of local hockey guys we have added over the years. Lansing just has a lot of stuff going on.”
And because Lansing is a city of just over 100,000, it’s not too big to still have connections when the guys came up through the high school, juniors and college ranks. A lot of the players know each other well.
“Not only guys that are on my team currently, but also guys that we play against,” Laing said. “A lot of the guys I’ve played with in the past through youth hockey, we’ve all gone our separate ways with juniors and college and what have you and all filter back and get into the mix. It’s not uncommon for us to play against guys that we went to school with.”
On Pinball Pete’s Gold team, which is a 21+ division, the players run from ages 21 to 55.
At 37, Laing is one of the older players.
“The other league is 18-plus, so I’m chasing around guys half my age,” Laing joked.
Along with playing in league competition on a weekly basis, the players on Pinball Pete’s enjoy competing in three to four USA Hockey tournaments each year. Since 2006, the club has captured around 30 titles. Most of those were in Michigan, with a few in Indiana and Ohio as well.
Pinball Pete’s tries to play in one tournament a month every February through May, along with the Michigan Adult State Championship every March. The guys love getting out of the Lansing area to shoot for some hardware.
“Different competition,” said the 35-year-old Lentz. “Cities are fun — we like to party in and explore different cities. Just like when you’re a kid, being on the road is exciting.”
The players have discussed traveling to Nashville or Las Vegas to play in bigger tournaments, which is something that might be in store in the future.
With all the league and tournament games per year, Lentz figures the teams play close to 120 games per year.
“I’m not saying we’re the most talented team in the country, but we might play the most games,” Lentz said. “Either way, I’m lucky to be a part of this group of guys.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.