Adult Hockey is Alive and Sliding at Genoveva Chavez Center
By Gregory Pleshaw
Back in the bad old days, when I grew up in Santa Fe, there were no ice skating rinks. There may have been one in Los Alamos, come to think of it, but despite the cold of our winters, ice skating seemed a pursuit for those willing to hike to Lake Catherine in the winter time, (brrrrrrrr!) and ice hockey was something reserved for folks back east or something.
All that’s looking different these days, as the Genoveva Chavez ice rink courses into its eighth active season as a rink. Nowadays, kids can literally grow up on skates on the storied ice of the rink, which is rumored by some who spend a lot of time on it, to be “the best ice surface in the whole state.”
That boast actually comes from Marc Martin, 49, who is currently skidding across the ice in a blue jersey, armed with full pads and a hockey stick, which he wields artfully. After 45 years on the ice, he ought to. Martin smiles and skates right at me, standing nervously in the pen where the skaters sit, then without warning, leaps over the wall separating ice from pen and sits down next to me. He is barely winded from what looked like a real workout out there on the ice, and he smiles and flips up his helmet and waits expectantly for me to ask another question.
The 49-year-old Martin is an officially designated “Old-Timer.” That’s the term of utmost respect passed onto those skaters who have some experience with skating and hockey and are at least forty years of age. Like a lot of old-timers, Martin is originally from Canada, but as he puts it, even among non-Canadians, the key word for old-timers is “transplant.”
“Not a lot of people grew up here skating,” said Martin, who in addition to skating with the Old-Timers every Sunday night is also a Captain in the “A” League of the Adult Hockey League as well as a Santa Fe Youth Hockey Volunteer Coach. “But that’s changing now, thanks to the rink at Genoveva Chavez. There’s a well-run program here and a lot of great hockey is played.”
When Martin chose to move to New Mexico, he made it a requirement that wherever he moved to had to have a rink that he could play on. He researched Santa Fe and found the Chavez Center and has been skating here ever since.
“The ice is good, the people are friendly, and the program is well-run,” he said. “Thomas Fagan [the Ice Arena Manager] and Tom Miller [the Skating Coordinator] are both doing an excellent job making sure that we have good ice, a good program and good times.”
A Crash Course in Hockey (Be Careful Not to Hurt Yourself)
Hockey, for folks like me that might not know right off what it’s all about, is a game that is played on ice skates with a long stick and a round disk of rubber known as a puck. The object of the game is to get the puck into one of two goals set up on opposite sides of the playing field, in this case an ice rink. Hockey’s gentle glides and swooping curves can be somewhat deceiving when it comes to the grueling work-out that your average player endures out there on the ice. With play broken into three periods of thirty minutes a piece, hockey can be an incredible workout for even the most casual player – and face it, this is hockey – there’s just no such thing as a casual player.
“It’s a lot like soccer on ice,” said Bill Kerr, a “C-League” player from Jemez Springs who’s been skating for seven years, playing hockey for the past two. “I’ve just come to find that even if you’re not very good at it, you work hard and it’s easy to become addicted to it.”
Throughout the Adult Leagues, players of all skill ranges can be found. “A-League”, on which Martin plays, is the most advanced, while “C-League” is for beginners like Kerr and others, who get together every Thursday night from 7:15-10:15pm to hash out their moves and get a taste (hopefully not literally) of the ice. This year, a new league was added – “B-League” to accommodate those players who aren’t quite beginners but aren’t ready for the big time of “A-League”. Each league has four teams each with a total of about 140 players in all.
Lacking the seasoned grace of the Old-Timers, players skidding across the ice during “C-League” play have their movements punctuated by the occasional fall or the stray missed pass. But the game is still marked by smooth cuts and turns across the ice as white jerseys battle black ones in their weekly Thursday night games. Beginning at 7:15, on this night the Eagles battled the Fliers, followed by a second game where the Thunderbirds battled the Chiefs.
“Each League has four teams and on their League night, all four teams will play each other for a total of three hours of hockey,” said Tom Miller, Skating Coordinator for the Center.
Unlike the Old-Timers, which currently features only men on the ice, (though it’s important to point out that there are no gender restrictions for Old-Timers or the Adult League in general) “C-League” play is definitely co-ed, with the long hair of women players poking out from beneath their helmets. Two of these women even brave the force of a hurtling puck to play goalie.
Tying up her hair with a bandana just before heading out to the ice to play goalie for the Fliers, Anastasia Gower pauses for a minute to adjust the massive pads that encase her body from upper thighs all the way to feet. A transplant who moved to Santa Fe from faraway New Zealand, Gower grew up playing field hockey for over fifteen years with six of those years spent as a goalie. So it just made sense that when she suited up this year for the first time to play ice hockey with “C-League”, her position would be that of goalie.
“I had been on ice skates just a few times when I started this season,” she said. “In New Zealand, it is very expensive to play on ice, but I already have the skills of handling a stick and understand how to be a goalie.”
Nearby, her colleague Camille “Lulu” Konwin is similarly suiting up for her time on the ice, serving the other team. Konwin is a relative rarity in the world of the Adult Hockey League in that she is a native of Santa Fe. She credits her five older brothers, four of whom play hockey, with encouraging her to pick up the sport. Currently, Konwin plays for “C-League” and she’s also on the Capital High girls’ varsity hockey team.
“Honestly, what I like best is all the hitting and the excitement,” said the feisty seventeen-year-old. “There’s something cool about the thrill of the possibility that you might break a bone.”
Nearby, “C-League” Captain Christopher Doyle hoists a bag full of gear, the boyish features of his face smiling through the metal grate that protects that face from a flying puck or stick. Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, Doyle moved to Santa Fe four years ago and has participated in the program since his arrival, coaching less seasoned players and helping them get better at life on the ice.
“Many of the players come here for the first time are coming to hockey late in life,” said Doyle. “They’ve always had a dream of playing hockey and I like to work with them to help them make that dream a reality. It’s just exciting to see people become better skaters and better players.”
Back on the ice, in Jersey #2 is Rodney Pryor, team captain for the Thunderbirds, which tonight is playing the Chiefs. A genetic technologist for Genzyme Genetics, Pryor serves the League with some distinction, both as a captain and a coach. Pryor grew up playing on frozen ponds in his native Rushville, Illinois just outside Chicago. He moved to New Mexico and attended NMSU before settling in Santa Fe eight years ago. And he’s also among several players who enjoy the beauty of a parent-child relationship on the ice, playing in “C-League” with his sixteen-year-old daughter Nykke. His eleven-year-old daughter Haley also plays in the Youth League.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Pryor, motioning towards Nykke, a fresh faced girl in braces who has just stepped off the ice after an hour and a half eager to play in the next game. “It gives us something to talk about and something to do together. Hockey requires a certain kind of commitment that is different from other sports, and the people who go in for hockey are good folks who are stand-up people. This is an excellent environment for my kids to be growing up in.”
The Genoveva Chavez Center offers many opportunities for people to use their ice rink for hockey, recreation and just plain fun. These include public skating from 6am – 4pm daily, as well as various youth and adult hockey practices, scrimmages, and games throughout your average week. They also offer skating and hockey lessons for children of all ages – including adults who’ve never skated, so don’t think you’re off the hook if it’s never been your thing. You can also find more information on the Center website at http://www.gccommunitycenter.com, and if you think you want to play hockey, call Tom Miller at 505-955-4031.
“Hockey in Santa Fe is its own little subculture,” said Pryor. “There are some great players out here but there’s always room for more.”