Amateur hockey comes to Columbus

The Columbus Hockey Association gets ready to drop the puck on adult amateur play 7:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Columbus Civic Center, where the group's hosting an open skate for anyone interested in signing up for a 13-member team of 12 skaters and a goalie.

Among the organizers is Joe McCrea, a major with the Muscogee sheriff's office, who says that for the past 10 years Columbus' amateur adult hockey play has been limited to late-night pick-up games with no referees, time clock or penalties.

"The pick-up format was a no-frills game of hockey with a mixture of jerseys that would embarrass a rainbow," McCrea says. "Players showed up when they wanted and paid by the session. . . . Some nights there would be 10 skaters and a goalie for each team. Other nights there might only be five skaters and no goalie. You never knew what you were going to have when you showed up at the rink."

Forming a formal league will add some of the frills and thrills with which professional hockey fans are familiar, except the players won't get to bounce each other off the walls. "This is a non-check league," says McCrea. That's to reduce injuries, he says: "Everybody's got to get up and go to work the next day."

Thursday night the league wants to get players on the ice and judge their skills during a scrimmage game. "And then the captains will evaluate the players so that we can prepare to roster the teams," McCrea says.

The new league is born of a merger joining the informal adult pick-up players and the Columbus Hockey Association, which sponsors youth teams for players up to age 18. Previously the two groups competed for rink time at the Civic Center, with the adults typically waiting past 9 p.m. to play. Now the hockey association will manage the available ice time.

The adult league will operate under USA Hockey rules, McCrea says. It's open to players of all skill levels, from novice skaters to former pro players. The local fee is $280 and includes a jersey, open skate, team practice sessions and a 12-game schedule. Players are expected to have their own skates, sticks and other gear.

The way to join up is first to visit www.usahockey.com and register as a player online, paying a $35 fee, McCrea says. The next step is to go to www.columbushockey.org and either register online or download registration forms to fill out and bring to the Civic Center, where players are expected to pay at least a portion of the $280 fee.

For more information, visit www.columbushockey.org or e-mail McCrea at JMcCrea@bellsouth.net.