Here's one hockey league that puts emphasis on skills instead of scars Reviews are positive after roughness checked

October 04, 1992|By Tom Worgo | Tom Worgo,Contributing Writer

Several men's hockey leagues in the metropolitan area have offered games with aggressive play in recent years, featuring checking, slap shots and sticks permitted above the waist.

The rough play at times has resulted in skaters with stitches, bloody noses and broken arms. Some players have missed work the next day because of injuries suffered during a game.

But the Howard County Men's Hockey League makes safety its top priority. The 8-year-old league, which plays its games on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights at Columbia Ice Rink, does not allow checking, fighting or slap shots. League officials have seen the impact rough play has in other leagues and do not want the same type of things to happen in their league.

The strict rules, including game penalties and ejections and sometimes expulsion, have made it one the most popular and competitive in the area. There is a waiting list to get on teams in the league.

"The league has taken on more of a serious and competitive attitude," said Rich Palmer, co-president of the league. "Our league has become competitive because we keep statistics, have playoffs and registered [USA Hockey] referees and offer trophies.

"If you allow slap shots and sticks above the knees, the chances of injuries increase. We say to have fun and not get hurt. If someone can't play within these boundaries, then this is not the league for them.

"We want to bring back the finesse in the game and take out the unnecessary roughness. We try to provide a league that is fun, competitive and reasonably safe."

Matt Dunne, an Ellicott City resident and the other co-president of the league, said the change in the style of play in amateur and professional hockey in recent years -- less aggressive play and fighting -- caused officials in the Howard County league to evaluate their league and implement changes.

There had also been requests from members of the league to tone down aggressive play, Dunne said.

The league, made up of six teams and 90 players ranging in age from 18 to 60, boasts former high school, college and Canadian junior players. The league also features top young players who are products of the some of the best youth hockey programs in the country. About 80 percent of the players in the league have moved here from out of state, Dunne said.

"There are guys who could have played professional hockey in this league down to guys who are second- and third-year players," Palmer said. "I think the league is as good as any intermediate league in the Baltimore-Washington area."

Goaltender Hank Phillips, who has played on area league teams for more than 20 years, including 10 teams in the last five years, agreed.

"This will be about the best league around," Phillips said, referring to the recent changes made. "There have been other no-check leagues in the area and some have been so bad it's pathetic. Now, they have had an influx of college kids and people who want to play hockey, but did not want to go the full extreme. This league has grown in leaps and bounds in the last three years."

Phillips, a Baltimore resident, complained about the talent level in some of the leagues he competed in recently, pointing to the drop-off in ability between teams' first and third lines. This

problem doesn't exist with the Howard County Men's League, he said.

"The talent is spread out evenly here," Phillips said. "The league is balanced."

Games started Sept. 13, with each team playing once a week until late March. Each team has 14 skaters and a goalie.

One advantage for members of the Howard County Youth Hockey Program, the largest in state, is that they can play in the league once they become to old to participate in the youth program. About 20 players compete in the league who are former members of the youth program.

Another part of the league, which plays games on Sunday nights at Columbia Ice Rink, is considered a non-competitive division for primarily first- and second-year players.

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