NMHockey making its mark on state’s adult hockey scene
When 5,000 people came to Albuquerque in 2001 to see the Stanley Cup, it got Joe Hanson thinking.
Maybe hockey has its place in New Mexico?
Now some 15 years later, NMHockey has nearly 250 players on 20 teams rostered across five divisions for the fall 2016 season, in addition to 50 more on a sub list. The league runs year-round at the Outpost Ice Arena in Albuquerque.
“In the winter of 2001, I was speaking with a co-worker that played ice hockey in a local rec league,” remembered Hanson, who serves as NMHockey’s commissioner. “I went and watched him play and this sparked my interest in playing. The next week, I purchased gear and started taking hockey clinics, power skating classes and learning positioning. Then when 5,000 people showed up to see the Cup, this got me thinking that there had to be at least 40-50 other individuals that might be interested in playing hockey at a beginner level. I put a few fliers out and we had 40 skaters and four goalies within a few weeks.”
And thus, the Albuquerque Beginner Hockey League (predecessor to the NMHockey league) was born.
These days, NMHockey’s season starts in July and ends in December and then another session starts in January and ends in June. The league breaks for a few weeks between seasons to reshuffle teams. Currently, 240 adult players are spread across five divisions (E, D, C, B2 and B1) of four teams each with the Norskie Cup the ultimate prize at the end of each season.
“We have no goals of growing beyond the 20 teams as it feels like a sweet spot for us right now,” said Hanson. “Additionally, all our games start around 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and end before 10 p.m. – that has been really nice. There are several adult leagues in Albuquerque and the surrounding area that offer really good hockey for players with experience, but only our E division offers a place for beginners to play with similarly experienced and skilled players. I believe any city that has adult and youth hockey programs should have an entry-level league for adults. This has proved to be a great way to grow the sport for both adults and kids. We have adults that started playing because their kids play and we have had adults that got their kids playing because they themselves started playing.”
Hanson noted that NMHockey’s B1 division is “pretty competitive” and has numerous players that played high school, college and junior hockey.
From an administrative standpoint, Hanson and his girlfriend manage most of the day-to-day tasks related to the league. There are also vice-commissioners that manage things at the divisional level.
“I have played a lot of different sports in my life and in my opinion, hockey is far and away the most fun,” Hanson said. “Additionally, between learning to skate, learning how to pass and shoot and then all the positioning, you see progression in your individual skills each time you step on the ice.”
So what is on the horizon for NMHockey?
“Providing a well-organized league that is safe, fun and competitive for all players has proved to be a successful receipt,” said Hanson. “We also redraft the teams every season, which cuts down on the rivalries, which in turn, cuts down on incidents between players. Fights are a bit of a rarity in our league, which is great. Every few seasons or so, we try to mix things up and change up our format a bit or add some new player stat. A few seasons back, we added one week per month where the game goes into a shootout if tied after regulation. That is one of the nice things about the size of the league – we can experiment a bit with different ideas.”
– Matt Mackinder