To this lifelong amateur player, hockey is much more than a sport
It’s another sweltering late-summer evening and Steven Poscente is on the ice, like he always is, playing hockey. He wears No. 88 for the Shamrocks, and they’re skating hard against a team from Nellis Air Force Base in the cool, 60-degree confines of a casino rink in North Las Vegas. Near the end of the first period, Poscente takes a pass just outside the crease and gracefully flips a shot over the shoulder of the Nellis goalie, putting the Shamrocks up 2-1.
Poscente is no schoolboy. In his day job, the 55-year-old manages eight funeral homes. Most of his teammates in this adult amateur league are about his age. There’s a helicopter pilot, a college professor, a baker, and a guy who sells auto loans. They’re among some 200 avid players who compete in the Average Joes league at the Fiesta Rancho hotel-casino rink, skating for teams with names like Puck Dynasty, Ice-a-Holics, and Drunk Deplorables.
Poscente grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, where hockey is life. And that didn’t change when he moved to Las Vegas in 1991. In a desert city where ice usually means the cubes that tumble inside a cocktail glass, Poscente is part of a thriving hockey fraternity that has existed for decades, long before the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights ignited a fan frenzy this spring by reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs in the team’s first year of existence.
Poscente says the passion for hockey here makes perfect sense: “A lot of people move to Las Vegas from cold places. And what do people do in cold places? They play hockey.”
Only one of the dozen Shamrocks is a Las Vegas native; most speak in clipped East Coast accents honed in Boston or Long Island. One Michigan native says he was attracted to Las Vegas not only by such former semi-pro teams as the Outlaws, Gamblers and Thunder but by the thriving amateur circuit: “I didn’t come here for the weather or the women. I came for the hockey.”
Along with the Fiesta rink, skaters slap sticks at the Las Vegas Ice Center in Spring Valley and at Summerlin’s City National Arena, where the Golden Knights practice. There are plenty of players to fill amateur squads.
“If I type the word ‘hockey’ in my iPhone address book, 300 names come up, including a guy in his 70s. The word ‘goalie’ brings up 20 names,” Poscente says. “People think the hockey culture arrived with the Golden Knights, but I’ve played three nights a week for 27 years. I tell my wife that I shower with my hockey guys after games a lot more than I do with her.”
Poscente has 8mm film of his parents putting him on the rink at age four. He played in college and continued skating after he married and started a family. His father was a hockey player; his son plays college hockey. He says there’s nothing sweeter than five teammates touching the puck before it slides in for a goal.
He’s played all the positions: goalie, defenseman, and forward. Before the Nellis game, as he changes into his green-red-and-white Shamrocks uniform in the locker room, he explains there’s no checking in the Average Joes league. “Just incidental contact,” he says and laughs. (Gray-haired and husky at six-feet tall and 226 pounds, he later sent an opponent sprawling to the ice.) “When you get in my way, you fall over.”
Poscente doesn’t just play hockey; he’s also been a coach. On Monday nights in North Las Vegas, he sponsors “Hockey Nights in Vegas,” an open skate for all ages that features competitive games with music during warmups, and drinks afterward. He’s also the public-address announcer for events such as UNLV hockey, the Las Vegas Storm semi-pro team, and the Mountain West Hockey League. Poscente even recently got married on the ice. In February, during a Golden Knights game against the Edmonton Oilers, Poscente staged what may very well be a sports first: He made a surprise proposal to his girlfriend, Cari, during a TV break in the first period — and the couple was married in an on-ice ceremony (officiated, of course, by an Elvis) before the third period that same night.
As the arena roared its approval, the team presented the newlyweds with “Mr. and Mrs. Golden Knights” jerseys.
In the end, the game against Nellis went into overtime before the Shamrocks lost 6-5. “I had the final shot and I messed up,” Poscente says. But in the Las Vegas hockey fraternity, there are no hard feelings.
“You can be mad at a guy on the ice,” Poscente says, “but five minutes after the game, you’re having a beer together.”