For many adult hockey players across Columbus, the month of December is synonymous with one thing: playoff hockey.
The Chiller Adult Hockey League playoffs, that is.
The CAHL is one of the largest adult hockey leagues in the country with 171 teams and more than 3,000 players. Consisting of three 15-week sessions held in the fall, winter, the league is divided into B, C, D, and E divisions based on the skill level of the player. The divisions are further subdivided into East, West, and occasionally South segments to encompass the size and popularity of the league.
The CAHL playoffs consist of two rounds and a championship game for each subdivision. The top eight teams in each subdivision have the opportunity to compete in the playoffs. However, there are no seven-game series in this league – once they lose, teams are eliminated from the competition and must wait until next session to redeem themselves.
Starting last week, teams in each division have begun that treacherous journey to greatness that defines every playoff run. The prize for winning it all? Well, that depends, said CAHL Commissioner Martin Spanhel.
“It varies among sessions,” Spanhel said. “Sometimes, we give them CAHL hoodies, polos if it’s the summer session, or hats.”
For CAHL players, the competition is the most satisfying part of the playoffs. Joe Barnhouse, an E-league adult player on the BDubs team (named after their sponsor, Buffalo Wild Wings) said the CAHL playoff experience is unique and special. Last session, BDubs made it to the Chiller Championship game but lost in the final minute of regulation.
“It was fun and exciting, even though we lost,” Barnhouse said. “It was so close! I wanted my championship hat.”
For the players on the BDubs team, that dream has been carried over to this session. They won their first-round game 7-0 against The Crue.
Still, Spanhel said that the chance to win a championship is just a small part of the motivation for CAHL players. After all, these men and women show up to the rink every week, sometimes as late as 10:30 on a Monday night, to play hockey.
“They come to the rink from [their daily lives] and just forget about everything,” said Spanhel.
“They just forget about everything but the game.”