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CAHL EXPERIENCE: Friendships, love of hockey at the core of adult league popularity

by Staci Pawlak / Columbus Blue Jackets

Author Wayne Coffey wrote that “hockey is a club that holds its members tightly, forged in the bonds of friendship, mutual passion, and discipline.”

Hockey is a community and a lifestyle for those affiliated with the game. Nothing proves this to be true more than the Chiller Adult Hockey League (CAHL).

Boasting 171 teams and 3,000 players who participate in more than 100 games per week, the CAHL is one of the largest adult hockey leagues in the country -- only trailing leagues in San Jose, Calif. and the Twin Cities in terms of participants.

The Sharks Ice San Jose Adult League enlists more than 4,500 players while the NSC Adult Program in Blaine, Minn. features a shade over 3,000 players.

These programs, along with the CAHL in Columbus, are members of the USA Hockey adult program, which sanctions a total of 615 men’s and women’s leagues. That adds up to 150,000 adult league hockey players around the country.

“On paper, we’re not the biggest, but in terms of revenue, we’re at the top,” said CAHL commissioner Martin Spanhel about the size of the Chiller adult league.

Which begs the question: why is adult hockey such a hit in Columbus?

Spanhel, who is in his third year as CAHL commissioner, said the OhioHealth Chiller network of ice rinks plays a large role in growing the size and scope of the league. The Chiller owns all of the rinks in the Columbus area and can coordinate ice time for the players among all five of its locations.

“I played a lot of sports, and this is one of the hardest sports I’ve ever learned to play. It’s also one of the most fun sports I’ve learned to play.” - Scott Behrmann

“Players have a lot of opportunities to play,” Spanhel said. “If you live in another city – like Pittsburgh – the rinks are owned by individuals and there are a couple of adult league teams at each rink, and that’s where you play.”

For some players, having more ice time has led them to play for multiple teams on multiple nights each week.

Take Scott Behrmann for example. He plays hockey four nights a week on five different CAHL teams and organizes a weekly practice for players who want to develop their skills.

“I played a lot of sports, and this is one of the hardest sports I’ve ever learned to play,” Behrmann said. “It’s also one of the most fun sports I’ve learned to play.”

Born and raised in Michigan, Behrmann grew up playing football and wrestling because his school didn’t have a hockey program. He learned to skate on frozen lakes and played pond hockey during the winter. Behrmann said one of the advantages of playing in the CAHL is the chance to make new friends while getting acquainted with the city.

“The friendships are the best part,” Behrmann said. “Some of my better friends are people I’ve met through the hockey system.” Behrmann also noted that playing at the different rinks is a great way to discover new restaurants and attractions around Columbus.

But the CAHL isn’t only for diehard hockey players looking to continue playing. The Chiller adult league is divided into five divisions based on skill level, so anyone from advanced players to beginners can find a comfortable place to play in the CAHL.

Advanced players compete in the B and C divisions, while beginners test their abilities in the D and E divisions. There are also opportunities for women to play on one of four women’s teams or on a co-ed team.

While skill levels may vary, one thing unites players across the CAHL: the love of hockey.

“This is a sport we want to play until we get old,” Behrmann said. “It’s our NHL.”

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