For any adult hockey player seeking a little variety on the ice, head to Houston and skate in the Old Hounds League (OHL).
Each season — the league has four seasons per calendar year — teams are started from scratch and shuffled via a draft. Players are rated on a 1-10 scale, and teams are selected on ability by captains to keep the OHL as even as possible.
Noel Chang has been playing in the league, which is conducted through the Bay Area Houston Hockey Association, for 15 years and loves the format.
“What I like about our league is everyone knows how wide the spectrum of ability is, and that’s why we go to such great lengths to balance the teams and make it competitive,” Chang said. “No one likes to go in a get shelled every week.”
The OHL, which started playing at the Sharpstown Ice Center in October after the Space City Ice Station shut down, is comprised of six teams in the fall season. The league has a nine- to 10-game regular-season schedule along with playoffs each season. The teams generally don’t get to make up their team nicknames; they are instead assigned a color.
“I think what we’ve got works really well,” Chang said. “I’m surprised more people wouldn’t do something like this.”
Chang plays on the Green team with Ken Bollweg, another longtime OHL skater. Even though both Chang and Bollweg — who are forwards — have played in the OHL for over a decade each, the two haven’t played on the same team too many times.
Bollweg, who has played hockey for 12 years, also likes playing in the OHL since games are competitive and scores for the most part aren’t lopsided.
“You mix them up every season, which is great,” Bollweg said. “Everybody gets a chance to play with everybody. If there’s any sort of building animosity over a season, you shuffle everybody. In fact, if there’s two people that really have a problem with one another, we usually make it a point to put them on the same team. Then they’ve got to work together.”
There are a broad range of ages and abilities in the OHL, which is considered a middle-of-the-road tier for skill level.
“It’s great bunch of guys, great corps group and it’s also very accepting of new guys wanting to try it out,” Chang said.
Since Houston is a town full of transplants, there’s a turnover rate of around 10 percent every season. Combine that with forming new teams four times per season, and it makes it a little difficult for players to create on-ice chemistry with one another.
“That’s one of the downsides is that the chemistry that develops between linemates is hard to foster because you’re changing the rosters constantly,” Chang said.
Bollweg doesn’t see that as a major issue.
“After doing it for 30, 40, 50 seasons, you’ve played with everybody one time or another,” Bollweg said. “It doesn’t take long. We’ve all played with or against each other, and we know everybody else’s tendencies for or against.”
With the Johnson Space Center located in Houston, several OHL players are either NASA employees or contactors. Bollweg, who is a deputy project manager at NASA, figures about 20 percent of the league players have NASA connections. There is also an astronaut who competes in the OHL.
Chang, who is a high school teacher, plays hockey as a release from his day job. Growing up in New York City, Chang, 47, plays a lot more hockey now than he did when he first laced up his skates at 10 years old.
“I’ve never given up playing OHL, that’s my ‘me time,’” Chang said. “That’s the one thing I do every week that’s for me. Go play that one hockey game a week because I love it.”
A Chicago native, Bollweg has been a huge Blackhawks fan since he attended his first Hawks game in 1959. Bollweg, 58, however, didn’t start playing hockey until he was 46.
“Since doing that, I’ve become an addict,” said Bollweg, who is also a Level 4 coach and Level 3 referee. “I’ve always loved watching it, I’d just never played it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.