An empty Coors Light can hit the pavement with a thud. Eli Bohlmeyer, 22, finishes his first beer of the night pulling up to the John Breslow Ice Hockey Center. He mentally prepares for the game ahead by grabbing another beer from the plastic bag.
“Sometimes you’re looking at a 60-plus mph shot, taking it straight to the body,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t have the nerve to drop down in front of that. That’s where the alcohol steps in.”
Teammates pull up alongside Bohlmeyer’s Mazda and begin walking toward the large gray building beers and gear in hand. The team suits up in one of the dimly-lit, musty locker rooms. New players walk in and out of the room while more beer drinking continues minutes before game time.
Crushing beers, hanging with the boys and playing hockey are a weekly staple of Bohlmeyer’s life. He plays hockey year-round for Hockeyfinder.com, an adult league available in 18 states. With a new wife, a child on the way and a full-time job, he finds time to relieve stress and play goalie for a recreational hockey league.
“When I finish a week, working 40 hours a week or more and dealing with everything at home, I know that I’m going to hit the ice and I’m going to take some pucks to the chest,” he said.
The amount of alcohol consumed changes on a weekly basis, he said. Some days, he might have one or two beers and others, he doesn’t keep track. Today, he didn’t work and spent the whole day drinking and playing an online video game, Runescape, with his friends.
“I didn’t want to get as drunk as I got, but I did,” he said. “Most of the time, I just get a light buzz and that definitely helps my confidence when we are up against some of the better teams.”
Bohlmeyer and the rest of the team waddle out to the ice for pre-game rituals. No alcohol is allowed on the ice but most of the team has already had at least two to three beers while gearing up.
Bohlmeyer sets up both goals by nailing the goals into the ice. A couple minutes before game time, the team warms up against him. He trash talks his teammates shooting wildly at him, some right into the goal and others not in the vicinity of the goal.
“People are either really good and have been playing for years, while others might have just started playing this year. There are a lot of different skill levels in the league,” he said.
The ref drops the puck onto the ice as the horn rings to begin the game. A collision in the middle of the rink begins the first of three 21-minute periods. According to Bohlmeyer, his team was more experienced than the other team, so he doesn’t see very much action in the first half.
Bohlmeyer gazes across the rink watching his team duke it out with their opponents. He has been a wall every time the opposing team comes close to his goal.
“I love to be the last line of defense kind of thing, you know,” he said. “It’s arguably the most important position in the sport.”
A ref stops the game with his whistle and Bohlmeyer takes off his helmet and gloves to signal a heart to his sister, Jillian, who sits by herself on the barren bleachers. Jillian, 20, attends a lot of her brother’s games, and signals a heart back to him as he puts his helmet and gloves on as play resumes. Tonight, she is the only one in the stands.
“It’s nice to show your support for your brother,” she said. “I know that he appreciates it. He’s always doing goofy stuff while he’s on the ice.”
Many of Bohlmeyer’s friends and family come watch his games on Wednesday and Sunday nights, including his wife, Shelby, mom, dad or sister.
“We love to watch Eli play,” his mom, Julie, said. “We just have to bring some extra blankets since it’s so cold at the ice rink.”
After a quiet half for the opposing team, they come out swinging in the second half. This causes one to smash one of Bohlmeyer’s teammates into the wall. Whistles are blown as a group crowds around the wall near center ice.
“Most teams rarely ever fight, but we fight pretty much every week,” Bohlmeyer said.
The fight is quickly deescalated and a couple of players are sent to the penalty box when play resumes. Bohlmeyer returns to his post at the goal after a heated exchange with the opposing team. He doesn’t only defend the goal but said he would go to war for any of his teammates.
“I love my team. I have played with a lot of these dudes for almost 10 years,” he said. “We have a really good chemistry on the ice.”
Most fights are left on the ice, he said. Typically players are just letting out some daily anger that comes with life.
“Most of the time, you can catch the players who fought in the parking lot having a beer after the game,” he said.
Bohlmeyer leaves whatever grievances he has on the ice and says the only time he fights is when somebody comes after one of his teammates.
The norm for goalies is to be stoic and not show emotions, but Bohlmeyer said he doesn’t follow the rules all the time. When there is a shutout, he gets excited and when he misses a puck and lets it go past him, he gets mad.
“I should just go drink my water bottle and continue to play, but sometimes it’s just like damn, I could have done something better,” he said.
Tonight, Bohlmeyer has been perfect. He protected his goal and his team scored three times against the opposing team.
Bohlmeyer’s team lines up to shake hands with the other team. The team turns toward their locker room to undress and have a celebratory drink or two. Swear words are thrown back and forth between teammates as they celebrate their 3-0 victory.
Eventually, the locker room empties out and people exit to celebrate their victory at a local bar or return home. Bohlmeyer loads up his gear into the back seat of his Mazda sedan and plans to head home to see his wife who could not make it to the game tonight.
Bohlmeyer’s softer side comes out after the brutality of a long-fought hockey game. He and Shelby are expecting their first child this winter and he said he has had to change a lot of his mentality.
“I start to think when I look around my house, and I’m like what’s childproof and what’s not, and it starts to scare me a bit,” he said.
Bohlmeyer stresses about fatherhood and said he’s worried he won’t be what the baby needs, but he realizes it’s an obstacle he needs to overcome.
“I look at myself and I think, nobody’s ever really ready for a child,” he said. “I just want to be as ready as possible to be the best father I can.”
The perfect outlet is playing hockey to let out the stress that comes with daily life as a young adult.
“It’s great to come out to the rink and sweat it out,” he said. “To get a break from real life and take some pucks to the face.”