The NHL may be in a lockout, but that isn't stopping a handful of Warren County players from getting their time on the ice.
The Ed Shults Jamestown Adult Hockey League (www.jahl.us/), featuring 14 teams in two separate divisions, offers a chance for players over 18 to compete in a recreational setting.
What is the draw for someone from Warren County to the JAHL?
Times Observer photo by Ben Oviatt
Superior’s Matt Engelbert handles the puck between two defenders during Sunday’s Jamestown Adult Hockey League game against Hiller Tire.
"I've always liked hockey, but never really had the chance to play when I was younger," said 1990 Warren Area High School graduate Dave Lawson. "I turned 30 at the same time the new rink (Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena) was built in Jamestown, and I just made up my mind that I was going to try it."
Lawson - a big Buffalo Sabres fan - plays for Hiller Tire in the B division, along with his father, Buzz Lawson.
"I just really love the game," Dave said. "I like the challenge of it, the exercise, the competition, and I like that, at 61, my dad can still play."
Jon Zigler, a former standout football player at Warren Area High School, was drawn into hockey by friends who'd been playing the game.
"I got started when I was probably 9 or 10 years old, playing street hockey with my best friend Ben Farnham," he said. "We'd lace up our skates every single day in the summer for hours upon hours playing in his driveway."
But that was pavement.
"Our parents wanted to get us involved in something and we were playing hockey in our driveways at that point, so it was something we wanted to do," said Farnham, who has played some form of organized hockey since the second grade.
Like Farnham and Zigler, Superior Tire's Wes Kuzminski got his start on pavement.
"I've been playing roller hockey since I was 10," said Kuzminski. "Being a Penguins fan, growing up watching guys like Lemieux and Jagr play, is what got me interested in hockey."
Others, like Matt Engelbert, have been on the ice for years.
"I started playing 20 years ago, at the age of 10," says Engelbert. "I grew up playing youth hockey in Jamestown, so it was an easy transition to go to the adult leagues since most of the youth coaches and former youth players now play in the JAHL."
Despite the gap in experience, players say that level of competition stays pretty even between the Open (A) and B divisions.
"The competition ranges from beginner players to guys who have played semi-pro," said Kuzminski. "The league does a decent job of making even teams, so it's competitive."
"For us, being in the B league is great because no matter how good you may be, everyone skates together and plays to have fun, but always keeping in mind that we're playing to get a win," said Zigler, who plays along with Farnham, Kuzminski, and Engelbert on Superior Tire, a Warren sponsor. "Winning a game is what we all aim for, but it's really just a reward. It's not too serious and not too laid back."
The league has a 26-game regular season (on Sundays), as well as playoffs for each division. Teams typically have two offensive and defensive lines as opposed to professional hockey, which has four offensive and three defensive lines, ensuring that these recreational players get plenty of ice time.
It's a "no-check" league, according to Lawson, "and even though it gets chippy once in a while, it's mostly just fun."
The Open Division is a little more competitive.
"Playing in the JAHL is great because, often times, you're playing against some of your former teammates and coaches from the youth hockey days," says Engelbert. "We have a lot of fun, but there is still a healthy level of competition between the players."
Competitiveness certainly isn't required, but knowing how to skate is.
Lawson took a beginners hockey class offered by Tom McFall at the Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena to learn to play.
"I think the competition level is fantastic," he said. "My father and I play in the over-30 (age) league. There is an open league that is loaded with great skaters; it's easy to see the difference in players that started young and those that picked up the game later in life."
Dave never expected his midlife hockey crisis to include his father, Buzz.
"Outside of work, we don't really have any common interests," said Dave. "He's a hockey fan, but he falls asleep a lot during (NHL televised) games."
But when Dave went to the beginners hockey program, so did Buzz.
"Before you know it, he's trying on shoulder pads, gloves... the next thing I know he has all the equipment laying there, too," said Dave.
At 61, and with the youngest on his team being 22, Buzz scored two goals in a B Division game on Sunday.
"He's third or fourth on the team in goals," said Dave.
Dave often wonders where hockey would have taken him had he started much younger.
He might get the chance to see; his nephew, Thomas Lucks "does things on his skates at nine years old that I could never do," said Dave.
Hockey isn't such a secret in Warren County anymore.
"There are some real good players from around here that play at higher levels," said Trevor Wilkins, who plays along with his cousin, Ryan Betts.
"I started watching hockey when I was 11 or 12 and at the time the Penguins had won a (Stanley) Cup a couple years before that," said Wilkins. "Nobody from here played ice hockey that I knew of. We'd go down to Betts (Park) and play roller hockey. We'd play until the cops kicked us off."
The Eisenhower High School graduate now has a four-year-old son, Luke, that plays roller hockey with him in the driveway.
He has the opportunity to start on ice a lot earlier than his dad.
"I'm not going to push him into it," said Trevor. "I talked to him the other day - I think he wants to (play)."
If he doesn't, Trevor said he'll relish the father-son moments in the driveway.