Johnny’s Ice House West 3 on 3 Adult Beginner League is going to restart soon for the fall / winter round. This is one venue where beginner players can sign up to play, get placed on a team and build team experience. The cost for this league was $16 a game ($175 total for 11 games), included 10 regular season games, one guaranteed playoff game and a team jersey. Team jerseys are not re-issued if you already have one from a prior round. Goalies play for free but are not given a jersey. If you have been taking classes and are thinking about joining a league, this could be a step between a beginner class and a full sized team.
Games are held on a small studio rink that is about one third the size of a full rink with a running clock of two 25 minute halves. There are no time outs or stoppages of play, icing is not called and penalties are resolved with a penalty shot being awarded. Line changes follow the same format that students enrolled in Johnny’s Hockey 101 or the former Hockey 102 class will be familiar with: a total line change is made at 90 second intervals. This makes for a fast paced game that keeps players moving.
What is this league like and should you join up to play? There are a number of benefits and drawbacks.
◙ This league is intended for adult beginners with two years or less experience and you can just pay and register to join. You can come on board with a full nine person team if you want to but that is not required. Players can pay the rink directly as they join without having to go through a captain or network their way onto a team.
◙ The small space allows everyone on the ice many opportunities to win the puck and shoot from many positions. In the first few months, the puck rocketed around the ice like it was in a pinball machine until players learned to control it better. Every player gets to handle the puck when they show up to play and feel like they had a chance to do something.
◙ Being on small ice makes stick handling, turning and maneuvering around other players a focus of the game. You will improve in these areas from the sheer repetition of needing to pass, receive, pivot, turn and stop.
◙ The whole line changes at the buzzer ensure that players get equal ice time. Newer hockey noobs do not have to fear they will get “benched” or get less ice time for lack of skill.
◙ Teams are stable because substitute skaters are not allowed and any sub goalies should come from within the league. There was room for improvement in enforcement of these rules — there were some higher skill players that raided games — but having these rules as the norm is helpful. There is consideration for the rink to use a sign in sheet and verification system going forward to prevent future ringers who are not in the league.
◙ All of the combination referee / scorekeepers that officiate the games were very conscientious about maintaining an environment of good sportsmanship and player safety. Abusive language towards individuals or overly nasty insults would be reprimanded or punished. This is not a no-touch league, yet anything that went beyond physical play and into the territory of intent to injure or preludes to fighting was quickly shut down. Players that get too mouthy or too chippy will find themselves benched for the remainder of the period or ejected from the game.
◙ Game times were at 7:10 pm and 8:20 pm which I found pleasant. If you work a job where you have to get up in the morning and do not want to be leaving the rink at midnight, these are great start times.
◙ When the weather really sucks, you can just shell out $2 to park in the garage downstairs. Goalies get to park for free. Drive your goalie to the game and it’s a win-win for both of you!
◙ The onsite rink bar The Stanley Club is a small casual place (as in ‘sitting around sweaty in your jersey’ casual) but makes for a nice hang out for adults to mingle after the game. You can get to know your team-mates and other players in the league better over draft beer, soft drinks or sports drinks. It’s a big improvement over sitting in the stands, trying to tailgate in a parking lot or sneaking beers around a park district rink.
◙ Teams the past two rounds (spring and summer) just fell together randomly and were not balanced in any way. Some teams wound up with many novices that had the least amount of experience, with some players having as little as three months of class time prior to joining their teams. How good your team is will be due to the luck of the draw and how hard you all work to improve.
◙ Fast skaters may be frustrated by the smaller space because they lack the room to open up and go full speed. If you are fast enough to play coast-to-coast on a full sheet of ice, this may not be a good venue for you.
◙ There will be incidental collisions as players who are learning to make tight turns, learning to gauge speeds or just learning how to stop will run into each other, both team-mates and opponents. Putting large adults on kid sized ice means there is not a lot of room to maneuver. I named the studio rink The Mosh Pit for this reason. I once got to skate the puck across the whole rink unchallenged after one opponent brought down his linemate in a full out body check that would have made an NHLer proud, if they both had not hit the ice in a heap. Wear all of your protective gear, wear a mouthguard and consider adding wrist guards under your gloves.
◙ Goalies get hammered as there are tons of shots on net, little time to anticipate a shot, the angles of attack are different. Goalies can expect high scoring games and a hearty workout.
◙ There are no locker rooms, just changing areas which are the extra spaces around the studio rink. This means no showers and toilets are two floors up. It helps to fill your water bottle well before you put on your gear.
◙ Game days fluctuated between Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. If you have kids and other commitments where you need to know the exact days and times of games, it does not make sense to pay for games you cannot play. Also, it is unkind to join a team and then ditch out games due to your schedule. As The fluctuating week days made many players miss games and teams hit the ice sometime with as little as four to five skaters.
◙ There were no scheduled team practice times or coaching so consider staying in any beginner class you may be enrolled in, getting together with team-mates to play rat hockey whenever possible or looking for stick and helmet ice times with park district rinks.
◙ It’s a beginner rec league but some people are still wrapping their heads around being on a team (or as I call it, a teamlet.) Some people may showboat too much after winning or flip out over losing because they are new to the sport, new to team play and are just learning to may manage the emotional highs of winning and lows of losing. Some noobs think getting hyper over games shows they are serious about playing and can get pretty immature. I think everyone in the league is serious about playing and working hard to play better; otherwise they would not be there. Players that get too emotional need to remember we are all beginners and there are no NHL scouts watching us. With time and experience, most players level out and take pride in playing, win or lose.
◙ The studio rink ice is really bad because players quickly grind it into snow, snow and slush in the summer. You will have to learn how to deal with a difficult ice surface as it degrades rapidly during the game. The first team on the ice gets a better surface but it does not last for long. I worked to make as many accurate saucer passes as possible as many times the ice was too choppy and snowy to make a reliable on ice sweeping pass. There was a great deal of colorful and inventive cursing by players struggling to describe the truly awful the ice surface. The ice was so terrible cursing about it became a team bonding experience.
Whether or not to join this beginner league is up to you to decide. The league could grow with the cancellation of the Hockey 102 class turning out a number of people looking for a replacement, however these players may just also join a COHL D team instead. I found the league to be a good fit for me as a slow skater who is still building basic skills and I definitely think the past six months of the 3 on 3 league improved me as a player. Older and slower players may appreciate the smaller rink for not having to cover long distances to get to the puck. If you are already on a beginner team playing full ice this league may sharpen your close game, or it may frustrate you as being too low a level of play. Whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks are going to be on a person by person basis.
You can find out more about Johnny’s Ice House 3 on 3 League here.
Johnny’s Ice House West is located at 2550 W. Madison St., Chicago, IL 60612 (map).
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