It’s hard at times to decide which hockey games to go to. Lots of factors can sway one way or the other. The drive, weather, quality of game, and of course, price. All of these factor in, as well as sheer fun and experience.
That said, I will do my best to make it to a Great Lakes Hockey League game.
The GLHL has been around since 1937, according to their about page. They are an amateur checking hockey league around Wisconsin and Michigan. Here’s how they describe themselves:
All GLHL franchises are non-profit organizations organized by volunteer in their local communities. The teams compete in a 20-30 game regular season schedule starting as early as October and finishing as late as April each year.
The GLHL features players above the age of 18 who have college hockey, junior hockey, and semi-pro experience in other leagues. This provides a unique opportunity for players to continue playing hockey in a meaningful, competitive environment.
The league follows USA Hockey rules, with games featuring three 20 minute stop time periods. It is the ONLY traveling full check adult amateur hockey league in the United States.
Last season, I visited the West Bend Bombers for a massively lopsided tilt against the Monroe Blues. It was a fun game with a very loyal fanbase. The Bombers wound up dominating the season until the very last game. This season, the Bombers have been in control, winning with scores like 16-4, 14-3 and 13-4. Going into this game, they were 5-1.
The Fondy Bears were headed to this tilt undefeated, and won their opening night game 22-4. You read that right. 22 goals in a game. This looked like it could be a very competitive game, the kind you make the extra effort to see, and hopefully, as a player make the extra effort to win.
Welcome to the Blue Line Family Ice Center, home of the Fond du Lac Bears.
If you don’t know where Fond du Lac is, it’s a bit under an hour Northwest of Milwaukee. And the people of Fond du Lac, they are hockey fans. They have come for a game.
I’m going to be honest, I didn’t expect this kind of turnout. I don’t know how the rest of the GLHL stacks up in attendance, but the Bombers and the Bears draw well. I got to the rink just in time for the singing of the anthem, and was surprised at how many people were at the game.
On this end of the ice is the bar, and the fans were packed in there. On the side of the rink I was sitting on, the fans filled about 80% of the stands.
Now, perhaps you are saying that this isn’t all that big a crowd. Maybe you are used to NHL crowds. I’ve been around the country seeing all kinds of hockey, and I am pretty impressed with the crowds the two GLHL teams I’ve seen have attractied. The tickets to this game (and the West Bend Bombers game I attended) were five dollars. There is no radio, no TV, no big budgets. The fans here work hard to keep up with the team they love. They don’t care that this isn’t the NHL, or even the minors. This is their team, and they are here for hockey.
And so are you. Let’s do this.
One note on the photos. I think my camera found it’s limit as how far I could push it with inexpensive lenses, fast shutter speed to freeze the action, and poor lighting conditions. These are some of the noisiest pictures I’ve taken, but such is the life of a photographer with a tiny budget. I’ll play with the settings for the next game and see what we get out of it. Click to make them bigger.
Enough of the hubbub. ACTION!
Lots of saves by the goalies in the first.
Bombers fans travel well.
I love the door guy’s sweater.
Did I mention it was full check hockey?
West Bend took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. The linesman took the locker room key with him.
Let’s walk a bit. Penalty boxes.
Through the Zamboni entrance.
It’s a rec rink, so you must have a pro shop.
2nd period action!
The game was a bit chippy. The hitting was good, a few slashes back and forth, and… what’s this?
We may have something here.
Yes, I think something is going to happen.
Could this be a fight in the making?
Well, now it’s just awkward.
Just kidding. For their efforts, four guys got tossed from the game. Number two of the bombers is not ready to give up yet.
This did nothing to temper the hitting, of course.
Every time I noticed Scotty Holtz, captain of the Bombers, he was smiling or laughing about something. This is a guy who likes his job.
No one scored in the second period. We head to intermission and chuck-a-puck. This was the first time I had ever seen real pucks for chuck-a-puck, as opposed to foam ones.
I think the rink announcer wished they were foam, as one came crashing down into their box.
The players are helping collect chuck-a-pucks.
Hey, check it out. One of the Bears is out in the crowd.
Hey, when you’re thirsty and they don’t have what you want in the locker room…
Trophies behind the bar.
Time to start the third period.
The Bears got within one and poured the pressure on late in the third.
But they would not succeed. The Bombers won it 3-2.
That was it for this one. I had to get back to Chicago, so I wasn’t able to hang out and take in more of the atmosphere.
I wish I could get to every GLHL team, but there are ten of them and I’m not in the area long enough. It’s some of the funnest hockey I’ve been to in a while. Breakaways, lots of physical play, plenty of chances, and a fun crowd. You don’t have all the amenities of the NHL, or even the minors, but that isn’t the point. The point is the hockey, and it does not disappoint. It’s a fun league with everything a hockey fan needs. Hopefully next time, I will have a little more time to settle in to the experience.
I’ve got another on the schedule soon. More to come.