JMS Hockey Blog

JMS is a pickup hockey league

Faster skaters at my session

by barbaragarn

Okay, you said you had “3 level 3s and a level 4 at Bloomington.”

This isn’t an accurate picture of the situation. These were not “level 3 players;” several people there had perms for more than one level, and the session’s speed depends on who shows up that night. It wasn’t that level 3 players crashed the L2, it was that some people with access to BOTH L2 and L3, showed up at the BIG L2 last Monday.

You just moved up from level 1 not too long ago and I understand that at a session with more more players who are on their way out of 2 up to 3, you would have some frustration.

The guy who was at that session but also plays level 4 is an anomaly; he is a solid L3, not a level 4 player. I have decided that he skates down well enough to play one level down, L2, if he wants. He doesn’t control the game and instead has that rare ability to match other skaters. I have no doubt whatsoever that he’s able to hold back adequately at level 2, and for that reason he is the only person in JMS who has skater permissions for more than two levels at once.

Sometimes people notice other skaters doing well and tell the captain to move that person up. What people usually don’t do is take the next mental leap; it’s easy to see a skilled player and say, “He’s good, therefore he should go up.”
But, does this player control the game? Does he go end-to-end? If the person AUGMENTS the game, without controlling it, then I’m okay with that person playing down. Just because someone is “good” doesn’t mean I feel like he should be excluded from a certain level.

The problems come with players who are NOT able to match their speed and play to the other skaters. These guys can be far rougher than they should be, or are totally unaware of the extent they’re controlling the game, or unable to have any speeds besides “stop” and “100 percent.” For these guys–who are the VAST majority–skating down is NOT an option.

But there are lots of reasons why someone would play down, and I think carefully before granting permissions–though of course I don’t post the reasons on the site, hoping folks will trust my decisions. People off the ice for a long time, or just recovering from an injury, often ask to play down and I have no problem with these requests. But I won’t (and shouldn’t) make an announcement to every person who is going to skate with these exceptions, divulging and justifying all private details.

I won’t split up teams before the game–the captain is there to balance them out and it sounds like he did a good job of this last Monday. The session skewed fast, as happens sometimes, but Randy kept it even, so in my mind it was a success.

Why don't you have Level X in my neighborhood?

by barbaragarn

Stillwater and Woodbury are definite no-go. There just aren’t enough JMSers out there to make it work.rnrnI don’t have time to write out what I have before about the factors that go into a session, but do know a few things:rnWhile you want this session, I’d need many more people to make it work. Not just 16 so we can play five-on-five with three subs, or 22 so I can break even on icetime. Because to make a session WORK, I need a much bigger pool of skaters; one week we’ll miss some regulars due to sickness, injury, working late, car trouble, out of town, etc. We need people who can fill in when those folks are gone. rnrnTo make a session successful, I need AT LEAST three times the number of skaters, because on any given week there will be more people not skating than sign up. Having a dedicated pool of about 70 people, skaters and goalies included, who are committed to skating regularly, is what I need to make a new session work.rnrnWhile one person–or even five people, or ten–can be very dedicated, that’s only a start. I can have ten friends who are super excited about having a session at a certain rink, but as you know that’s not enough for a game… and that assumes that none of them are out for the reasons listed above.rnrnAnd that’s not even getting into booking the ice. Figuring out 1. a day, 2. a rink with 3. available time not to mention 4. early enough, is really hard. Some people are unwilling to drive more than 15 miles to play. Or some won’t play after 10 p.m.–makes things hard in this state of hockey where youth associations eat up all the early times. And of course, day/rink/start time issues will mean some of our eager skaters choose not to play, thus lowering the critical mass available to make a session work.rnrnI want to empower you to help make a session work in your area. Given the factors above, what do you think you can do to help make it work?rn

How many skaters are you talking about? I’d need more than just the basic 16 to make it work–I have to cover ice costs (which does mean right around 22 bodies), and I have to have a big enough skater pool to draw from so that when James is sick, Bob takes his spot, or when Katie has to work late, Elsie wants to skate. It usually works best when I have about three times as many INTERESTED people in the pool as I need to skate on any given night, because other people will be otherwise occupied.

Because I keep level 1 for TRUE BEGINNERS, the skater pool for that level is rather low. People learn relatively quickly and move on to level 2.
But this means that there aren’t enough folks to hold multiple level 1 sessions around the Twin Cities. I try to book as centrally as I can, so everyone has to drive a reasonable amount. That’s just how level 1 is; you’ll drive a while, but then when you move to level 2, there are more options, and at level 3 even more than that. But level 1 with its limitations is something everyone has to go through–so please know that, while it is a further drive than Bloomington, it is not forever.

Solution is not to let everyone from L4 play L3 (which ruins…), it’s to get enough L4s to have their OWN skate.

Combined sessions

by barbaragarn

While you may feel that combining sessions will get more skaters, this also brings a greater variety. How then is JMS different from any other pick-up in the area? The whole point of JMS is managing parity so everyone on the ice is at roughly the same level. People tell me again and again how much they appreciate finally being able to touch the puck and make some moves. Getting rid of the parity by opening it so wide that it doesn’t matter… that just gets rid of the whole reason for JMS.

I’ve worked very hard to separate into distinct tiers and combining levels just throws all that work out the window. In a combined L3&4 session, how do people know what it will be like? You know from attending JMS on different nights that sometimes it’s a “fast L3” and sometimes a slow one. Now think about all the variety there would be between the bottom end of level 3 and the top end of level 4. That is too much, people would have no idea what a session would be like. That won’t help encourage folks to sign up–what people like about JMS is knowing what they’re going to get and that it will fit.

And so combining sessions dilutes the quality of JMS, and participation suffers. I have done combined level 1&2 before, and combined Level 4&5. NEITHER were successful; the higher skaters got frustrated at the lower players, taking the puck from them and essentially ignoring them and playing around them, and they got tired of it and stopped signing up. And the weaker skaters got frustrated too–they were used to having a bigger part of the game, they can’t catch the speedier folks, so they get hacky and the entire game becomes way chippier and people just don’t have fun. And THEY stopped coming. And the session failed. Again, this isn’t guessing, this is hard data from previous experiences.

A regular level 3 session can have a wide range of abilities– people who just moved up to 3 from 2 but still have L2 perms but then also people who play L4 but are recovering after an injury and playing down a while. That’s a lot of abilities to have on the ice, and by opening it to more than two levels, I would then have skaters with perms for level 2 through 5 on the same ice. This isn’t just a “sometimes” thing, it’s a “usually” thing. It is a management headache on the ice.

You probably aren’t aware of this, but there are a LOT of folks who feel they should be playing higher than they are. We love our fellow skaters, but I’m sure you can realize that for some, their PERCEPTION of ability does not match their ACTUAL ability. We feel ourselves to be gods upon the ice, and even video will not shatter this illusion. You know the kind of skater I’m taking about–one who thinks he’s great but absolutely is not. Say one of those guys is a level 2 and just moved into level 3. He goes to a level 3&4 and decides he “did okay.” (What does it mean to “do okay”? In their minds, frankly, anything short of spending every shift lying flat on the ice.)

And so these folks play in a combined session and feel they “did okay” and should therefore be allowed to play the next level up. Trust me, this happens ALL THE TIME when I run a combined session at the X. The faster skaters have to slow down the game to include the weaker ones, and when they do, and make a pity pass to the slower folks, the slower folks don’t realize it was intentional generosity and feel it means they have been able to “run with the big dogs.” They don’t realize it was a charity pass while everyone else held off and let the slow guy have the puck. It’s a terrible headache and I do not like to have to keep explaining it to people–which is what I would have to do if I had more combined sessions.

This disillusioned skater will see his participation, his mere presence and “showing up,” at a combined L3&4 as absolute justification that he SHOULD be moved to Level 4 RIGHT AWAY. I’m not saying this MIGHT happen, I’m saying it WILL happen, because it has before. And these guys are relentless, e-mailing me constantly, using the combined sessions to “prove” that they are actually as good as they dream they are inside their heads. I’m not going down that road.

I hope this makes sense. I know folks speculate about what I do–truly, there is always a thought-out reason behind my actions, even if it’s not immediately apparent. I think the levels–loose guidelines as they are–are important and even though they’re not hard and fast, we do our best to keep them as homogeneous and reliable as we can.


Wakota is strong and I’m glad to see it. Some of the mixed L3/4 group may have thought it was fun to play together, but I had MANY e-mails from TRUE level 3 skaters who were sad that their session was being overrun by faster players. The true L3s asked me why I wasn’t delivering the parity I advertised. I’m sure the big group of friends didn’t care about what these other people were feeling, but I did, and I’m the administrator–it’s my responsibility and my mission to provide parity hockey.

It concerns me that the group skating at Wakota now is so incredibly set against me actually delivering what I advertise: parity hockey. Everyone wants me to organize JMS to fit their personal situation (ie, be the best one at a session, or close to home, or with friends who started playing hockey ten years earlier, etc.) and I just can’t do that.

I wish the people at Wakota would stop the fearmongering–I know what they’re saying, I get e-mails about it. If they want to leave because I’m doing what I advertised, if they want to leave because I’m making a session fair for the lower level people who actually belong there, then that’s their choice. I’m sad their vision is so narrow, but I can’t change it and I won’t waste time trying.