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'Root Beer' League Provides Hockey Alternative


“There are going to be collisions. There are going to be accidental hits. What we focus on is taking away the purposeful checking and the purposeful hits that can lead to something more.”

When Eric Hedblom first heard about the Minnesota Hockey Recreation League (“Rec League”), it couldn’t have come at a better time. His son, Conor, absolutely loved the game, but the commitment was simply getting to be too much.

“If we wouldn’t have found the Rec League, I don’t know what we would have done because there wasn’t another option,” said Hedblom.

After just one year, both Conor and Eric became strong advocates for the league. Fast forward to today, which will be their fifth season in the program, and Eric is entering his first season serving as the president of the Rec League’s board of directors.

“I call it Root Beer League,” said Hedblom, noting the similarities between adult hockey, often referred to as “beer league” and the Rec League. “Let’s go out, skate around, let’s have some fun, get some exercise and play with our friends. We, as the adults, are just there to provide sort of the chaperones to let the kids have fun, and hopefully, we’re creating lifelong hockey players.”

The comparison isn’t far off either.

Like most adult hockey programs, Rec League teams only skate a couple of times each week, and the focus is much more on enjoying the game than who wins or loses.  Players can also request to play with their friends, even if they live in a different community.

Another similarity is there is no checking in the Rec League, regardless of the age level. As awareness has risen regarding concussions, the no-check nature of the league has become an increasing factor for why kids choose to participate and has enabled many kids to continue playing the game, when they would have otherwise quit. 

Hedblom has seen this first hand, referencing one of his son’s friends who join the Rec League.

“He’s been concussed three times,” said Hedblom. “There’s no way his parents would let him, nor would he play, if there was any checking. In fact, they were very cautious even with no-check because there are no guarantees.”

“There are going to be collisions. There are going to be accidental hits. What we focus on is taking away the purposeful checking and the purposeful hits that can lead to something more.”

This is where a couple of the differences from adult hockey make a positive impact. Each Rec League team has coaches who participate in clinics to learn about coaching and the philosophy of the league. Then, teams are provided a few practices so coaches can teach basic skills.

“A real focus of our coaching clinics is to talk to kids if there are kids starting to get a little too aggressive,” said Hedblom. “You talk to them and tell them to tone it down and remind them what the league is about.”

For Hedblom, that message is simple, and one that can’t be repeated enough. Keep the focus on the game and having fun above all else.

And remember, we all have to go school (or work) tomorrow.

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