Almost every Wednesday night at about 10 p.m., they take over the ice at Jacksonville Ice and Sportsplex.
They do not belong to a league per se, but they meet consistently, play competitively and support each other loyally. Sandy Chapin’s wife simply calls them “the hockey guys.” Sandy is a longstanding member of the group, made up of about thirty men who have been playing together for almost twenty years.
“Over time, people have come and gone,” says Sandy, but about a dozen members are original.
It’s a tight network, says longtime group member AJ Beson. “We care about each others’ families and businesses.”
Sandy adds, “Every time someone has an event, we all get together. Back in the day, we used to finish playing at 11:30 or midnight, and sometimes we would be standing out in the parking lot until two in the morning.”
The group is intense and competitive. All have played collegiately or professionally at some point in their lives. “We are pretty tough critics,” says Sandy. “I don’t want to brag, but we’re all pretty good.”
They skate twenty guys at a time and usually play short games, capping the score at five. “We don’t have referees, and we don’t have a clock,” Sandy says. “It’s kind of a gentlemen’s hockey, but it’s still rough, and it’s still extremely fast.”
Few members still have all of their own teeth. Sandy, 49, had not lost any until about 15 years ago when he got hit by a stick and had five front teeth knocked out during one of their Wednesday night games. Now, he takes out his replacement teeth when he plays.
“We’ve all invested in dentistry,” says Jim Murphy, a relatively new member. “Personally, I’ve had seven replaced and no tooth fairy in sight.”
Jim grew up in Minnesota, playing hockey in high school and college. He played six years of professional minor league hockey, finishing his career with the now-defunct Jacksonville Barracudas in 2008. “I first met the Wednesday night group during the off season from playing with the local professional team,” he says. “They invited me to skate, and it fit in nicely with off-season workouts.”
After the team folded, Jim stayed in Jacksonville and began playing with the Wednesday group year round.
Beyond Wednesday nights on the ice, the guys also stay connected in their personal and professional lives. All agree that the networking the group provides has been extremely valuable both professionally and socially. “We have quite the network of professionals,” says Jim. “In fact, when my wife and I built our first home, I tapped into our hockey network quite a bit. I used Sandy Chapin for my interior trim work, Paul Garwol for landscape design, Mick Dolan for my title and closing, and Scott Cleary for a few legal affairs. The list goes on and on for how we help one another.”
“The main thing is that we’re all very tight,” Sandy says. “We all kind of love each other in a weird, manly kind of way.”