Written By: James Slemp
I can still hear Jim McKay on Saturdays saying, “The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition…” along with the theme music for ABC’s Wide World of Sports on TV. Sitting there in the living room with my parents, watching that week’s sporting events, smiling at the victories but relishing the defeats.
I also remember Al Michaels’ famous line, “Do you believe in Miracles?” as the US 1980 Olympic Hockey Team beat the Russians at Lake Placid. Those events sparked my sports dream of hitting the walk-off home run, throwing the winning touchdown, and beating the goalie’s glove side. But, like most kids, I would never become an elite athlete; instead, I would experience sports at markedly lower levels and on television.
The NCAA in 2018 identified 35,283 high school hockey players in the US. 4,323 college-level players, or only 12.3 percent of high school players, made it onto a college team. Of those, 71 would get drafted by the NHL for 7.4 percent. This low number of players earning money from hockey is typical of all the major sports in the US. So, where do the over 170,00 hockey players play as an adult?
Beer leagues have emerged as the principal options they are adult leagues that cater to local hockey players in a community, with beer drinking occurring before, during, and after the games. Designed for adult players who want to continue to play the game, beer leagues and tournaments allow new and veteran players to compete for championships, meet and develop friendships, and develop skills. The amount of hockey throughout the United States is impressive, with most major and many minor cities having at least one rink that hosts beer leagues and tournaments.
Many rinks offer learn-to-skate and learn-to-play-hockey sessions that expose adults to hockey and place them on novice or beginner teams after they ‘graduate.’ Leagues and tournaments are often not the most fair, welcoming, and fun groups to lace up your skates. Far too many players thrive on competition, placing victory above all else.
As beer leagues and tournaments struggle to fill their teams, they often allow higher-ranked players to play on multiple teams, including lower-ranked divisions. These ‘try-hards’ often ignore lesser-skilled players, and as the team struggles, they resort to chastising and heckling their teammates. Beer leagues and tournaments also struggle with keeping ‘stacked’ teams from infecting their lower divisions and levels.
Players get frustrated as stacked teams dominate their opponents throughout the season or over the weekend tournament. Every player pays the same amount to participate in these events, yet they don’t get to touch the puck, watch as players blow past them, and lose more games than they win.
There is hope, however, for those players that have shunned the beer leagues. 3rd Line Hockey burst onto the hockey tournament scene in March 2023, quickly rising above the bleak landscape with their business model. 3rd Line Hockey hosted 23 successful tournaments in 2023 throughout the United States, including one bucket-list tournament in Edinburgh, Scotland, during Halloween.
3rd Line Hockey’s mission statement states that it is a place to unite, where diversity, equality, and inclusion are the core values. They strive to create an all-inclusive and welcoming atmosphere, regardless of who the player is or their beliefs. They believe that everyone, from introverts to extroverts, regardless of race, religion, gender, gender expression, color, sexual orientation, or marital status, should be able to enjoy a positive, fun, and engaging experience.
Their inclusive marketing strategy resulted in many of their tournaments having 30- 40 percent female participation, and the draft-style structure equally balanced the teams; most of the tournaments had two ‘ringer’ rounds, one beginner-level round, with the remaining rounds comprised of ‘average’ players, C or D levels at most rinks.
The emphasis during tournament weekends was on having fun, not taking the games too seriously, and making and building friendships. Players were encouraged to allow lesser-skilled players the opportunity to play with the puck, and physical play was all but forbidden.
Jesse Owens once said, “Friendship born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded; friends gather no dust.” 3rd Line Hockey has embraced his words and established an opportunity for hockey players to enjoy the game without getting hacked by the ‘try hard’ beer leaguer.
3rd Line Hockey has 30 tournaments scheduled for 2024, including a return to Scotland over Halloween and a visit to Athens, Greece, in May. If you’re tired of the same-old, same-old at your local rink then this Hockey Carny encourages you to try at least one of 3rd Line Hockey’s tournaments this year.
Give 3rd Line Hockey A Shot!
Check out the 3rd Line Hockey Tournament Schedule below, choose your favorite one and book your spot. We have tournaments all over the world and we’re always looking to add more so check back often!
You will never regret playing in a 3rd Line Tournament, it’s the best hockey experience around!