Behind Every Beer League Hockey Player is A Great Bartender

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Last year I wrote about my return to play beer league hockey after a 12-year hiatus and the seamless transition getting back up to speed. Well that’s provided you consider the constant pain, knee operation and getting old, part of the process. My acceptance to the league was made easier by childhood friend Andy Tocchet aided by the fact that of the 300 players in the MMRHL, he’s probably had a beer with 299 of them!

I never realized how much I missed playing until I started again and liked it so much I’m up to 4-skates a week and once a week throughout the summer. However any player will tell you that competition aside, the real enjoyment of beer league hockey is the guys in the “Room.” Period.

Talent aside, the character of the player is the key component when the teams are selected through a draft in the off-season. At our one day Christmas tournament I said to Tocc, “I thought we had 15 guys on our team? How come we had 30 in the Room after our last game?”

Unlike any other sport, the post game beer rehashing a win or loss with verbal shots coming from around the room allows 15-guys in that moment to forget about anything that might have occurred earlier in the day. Priceless.
Unfortunately there is only so much time for the post-game socializing with other teams waiting for the dressing room so team bonding moves to another venue.

This may seem like a simple procedure but walking from the dressing room to the car can quickly change a guy’s thought process to just go home. Thus the next stop better be worth the effort, especially in the middle of February.

The Duchess of Markham (est. 1980) is a rustic neighbourhood English Pub located on Main St. within walking distance for a lot of the locals.

Upstairs is the unofficial headquarters for the Markham Men’s League with a horseshoe shaped bar tucked in the corner and table seating for around fifty. The upstairs is only open in the evenings and patronized regularly by the players in the league.

Like a superstar player that needs only a first name to be identified, the Duchess is simply “Duch.”
Players exiting the dressing room while nodding good-bye utter one word, “Duch” and the recipient without hesitation respond usually with a thumbs-up.

The straw that stirs the drink at the Duch is John Ruscetta the head server on the second floor. Johnny is a friendly, outgoing family man with a permanent smile and warm greeting to all who frequent the bar. As far as I can tell Johnny’s only shortcoming is his non-affection for the Leafs but rather the Philadelphia Flyers.

The second time I patronized the Duch, before summoning the server, a pint of the beer I’d ordered the previous visit was placed in front of me. To the average guy this wouldn’t mean anything, but bar etiquette carries a code of priority, especially ones first visit to a clubhouse environment. They also wouldn’t understand that everything from seating around the bar to ordering a drink is all based on seniority. It’s widely believed that hockey players are very superstitious regarding everything they do, but that’s not the case at all. Its not superstition; rather routine that not only applies to the way he tapes a stick, sits in the dressing room or orders from a favourite spot in the bar. Having been around the game all my life I respected the “code” and stayed away from the bar until I established who sat where along with the general order of balance. An “all-star” server like Johnny has a way of welcoming a newcomer like myself without disrupting the semblance of order with respect to the regular perched on his designated barstool. I quickly figured out who occupied designated seats (Bruce, Gerry and Hayden; the rest are first come) and have become good friends with them.

During summer months the upstairs bar shifts outside to the patio that is probably one of the best in city of Toronto. One Thursday night the patio was packed and the bar was four or five people deep, so I decided to wait to order because Johnny was jammed, but to my amazement I suddenly felt a nudge and one of the servers working the floor tables was handing me a beer. How he saw me I have no idea.

Dealing with inpatient beer drinkers I’m sure can be a nerve-racking experience and even with three or four teams in the room at once Johnny in “machine like” fashion, remembers every order. Aside from making sure everything on the second floor operates smoothly, seasonal NFL, NHL pools,” draws and lotteries are managed by Johnny as well. Even with this buzz saw of activity he still manages to have three or four conversations going at the same time around the bar. And if that isn’t enough to keep a guy busy, he still finds time to send jars of Italian sauces, hot peppers and sausage home with me because he heard Deb is a fan (so am I). All homemade of course!

One thing is certain that no matter what kind of day I’m having, I know arriving at my favourite bar I’ll be greeted by a friendly smile and a cold beer. To our humble barkeeper, similar to Stars known by name only like, Wayne, Sid, Mario and Auston, we respectfully include Johnny!