The fight-free world of Dry Ice Arena
It's between the airport and the ballpark in Oakland: the Dry Ice Arena, home of the immediate Bay Area's thrivingest inline roller hockey scene. There's a parking lot in back, and a store where you can get you your gear: skates, shirts, helmets. They rent these, too.
Against the windowless outside wall of the building, as you walk along looking for a door, you will find an occasional walk-in rat trap, badly parked cars, and a plastic bag full of crackers, which I wanted very badly to stomp on but didn't.
Inside, Giant Robot was squaring off with the first-place Gentlemen's Club in the Sunday Silver League B2 semifinals. The Gentlemen's Club, top seed going in, had beaten Giant Robot during the regular season. That's all I knew.
It's five on five — a goalie, two up, two back — and they have a rule that any player can only score three goals. Which rule came in handy for the Gentlemen's Club, or they might have lost even worse than 12-3.
Giant Robot team captain Len Amaral, who missed the whole first period on account of Giants' game traffic, said he didn't feel comfortable with their lead until near the end of the game.
"They can score in a hurry," he said. "They're a fast, good team."
When he saw 4-1 on the scoreboard coming into the arena, he said, he thought at first his team was losing.
Nah. It was never in doubt. Thanks to some great goalie work by LeMarr Mojica, who had about a gazillion saves, Giant Robot never let the Gentlemen's Club feel anything other than frustrated.
They extended their lead to 5-1 early in the second period, and by the end of the period it was 8-3.
A nice thing about roller hockey: since it's not on ice, the puck moves a little slower, or seems to at any rate, and is easier to follow.
Another nice thing: no fights.
Seriously, I don't believe I've watched a whole hockey game since the USA vs. Russia in the 1980 Olympics. And one reason pro hockey has eluded me, fandomwise, is the fighting. Not that I'm a pacifist; it's not even that I'm a "good sport." It's that most of the time, under all that armor, you can't tell who's winning.
I'll have my boxing in a ring, thanks. Without shirts, when possible.
Amateur hockey, though. Roller hockey . . . fun to watch!
We decided to stay for the championship game, but were too hungry to sit through the other semi-final, which would determine Giant Robot's opponent in the finals.
Dry Ice Arena has a snack bar, but all they have is frozen fried things and candy bars. In retrospect I wish we had stayed put, because the takeout Indian we scored down on International was even inedibler than chicken nuggets.
We should have known. There was a calendar on the wall next to the refrigerator of this joint (which shall remain nameless), and it was still set to March.
"I hope they pay better attention to expiration dates than they do calendar ones," Hedgehog observed.
"Don't worry," I said. I'd seen him take our food out. Of the freezer. It wasn't going to make us sick. It just wasn't going to taste any good.
Plus we had to wait forever for it, so we missed the most exciting game of the tournament. Empty Net and Apuckalips went down to the wire, swapping goals in the closing minutes, and Empty Net won by one to advance.
Problem: they didn't have any subs.
Roller hockey, like the icier kind, is an incredibly strenuous sport. They sub often, when they have them. And Empty Net went into the championship already exhausted.
Giant Robot scored first, and fast. Their initial goal came 14 seconds in, and that was all they'd need. For good measure, they added six more.
Final score: Giant Robot 7, Empty Net 0.
I was them, I'd give the game puck to Mojica. Not only did he pitch a shutout in the Championship game, but he'd skunked the Gentlemen's Club the final period of the first game. Remember? That's four straight scoreless quarters! For rec-league hockey, I think, that's pretty impressive.
Can you skate?
The Dry Ice Arena has beginner leagues, youth and adult leagues, co-ed, and even pickup. Check it out.
Dry Ice Arena, www.dryicehockey.com