|There was a time when the Yeshiva Hockey league existed for the sole purpose of giving two rivalry schools an opportunity to go at each other with sticks. When you put your 4 strongest kids on the hockey floor with a helmet and a stick and across from them stood another 4 of the strongest kids from a different school, you were bound to have an entertaining night. In those days, the league was quasi-official. Back then most games didn’t have referees and most teams didn’t have equipment. If you wanted to play hockey you brought your own stick and ball and if you were one of the lucky ones, you even had a helmet. Legend tells us of a time back in the ‘70’s when Flatbush and TA played a hockey game that went into double overtime. That’s when someone finally realized that no one had brought a hockey ball. If you ask the older generation if it’s true, they’ll smile and nod. Those were good times.
However, over the years the yeshiva hockey league altered course. It was a gradual shift that picked up momentum in the ‘90’s. As time had progressed, certain players and schools began working on the floor hockey fundamentals and the basic hockey skills; stick handling, shooting, passing, spacing, etc… All of a sudden there were teams that were executing hockey fundamentals on the floor and eyes were opened league-wide. The debate began. Was hockey a real sport? Should this league get serious? What rules need to be instituted to preserve the positive trend of success the league has been seeing? How do we attract the best athletes to choose hockey?
At this point in the ‘90’s yeshiva hockey was diversifying. Not only could a player go out there and look to pick a fight and rough up the other side, but now there was a chance at winning the game too. There was a chance at taking home a trophy at the end of the year. There were referees, schedules, divisions, playoffs. There was true competition and recognition across all schools of the chance to win another title. Players started working harder on their skills; coaches started focusing more on practice as a way to improve the team. Hockey was no longer an extra-curricular activity that was offered by the school in order to alleviate the non-basketball players. (At the time basketball was “the” sport, but only 15 players at most could fill out a roster and that left many students in the dust and out of luck. Hockey and its ability to fill up a roster with upwards of 20 players was the obvious answer.) No longer was hockey a distant 2nd to basketball. The gap was closing.
As the excitement grew into the late ‘90’s there remained one very serious issue. This issue was now at the forefront of league meetings and school officials’ conversations. Hockey was too violent. By nature hockey is a violent, fast paced sport and many are susceptible to injury throughout a game. Was this risk exposure justifiable? Was it fair to kids who want to play on a team and be a part of exciting competition to be forced to risk injury? What was the league all about?
The decision was made eliminate the “checking” from the game. It was no longer legal to rough it up on the court. If the ball is in the corner, it’s stick vs. stick, with standard physical contact allowed. Similar to boxing out an opponent for a rebound in basketball. And so yeshiva hockey evolved yet again. The big defensemen of yesteryear were sent into the field to graze, to watch from the sidelines. No longer were there muscles and strength needed on the court. This final push has brought hockey side by side with basketball. Hockey is all about the athlete now. Hockey is about speed, quickness, court sense and skill. It’s not about brute strength and size.
It is in this era that yeshiva league hockey stars have been born. The era of no checking has allowed the stars to score and assist. Once upon a time, if you were the best player on your squad you had an X on your back before the ball dropped. You were a marked man and the big strong defensemen weren’t going to let you do too much without getting a fistful of hockey glove, or a stick to the shins, or worse. Nowadays we have skilled players who are amazing the fans and electrifying the crowds.
Hockey has come a long way from when it first began. Some things though, will never change. Ask someone that played in the ‘70’s if they’d send their own kid out to play the game the way it was played back then - with no rules and no referees. Ask him if he’d send his kid out there with just a stick, a ball and a helmet to face a bunch of goons on the other side who are also just looking for a fight. He’d say, “absolutely, but what’s the helmet for?”