Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

Editor: W. Patrick Tandy

January, 2004

 

Over the Boards (but not the Hill)

By Patrick Tandy

You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.
 –
Wayne Gretzky

That same sentiment echoes throughout many walks of life. But for the group of middle-aged attorneys gathered in a sweat-infused locker room at the Benfield Pines Ice Rink in Millersville, Maryland, on this unusually balmy November night, the hockey legend’s words drive home with all of the force of a little black puck at speed.

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“As midlife crises go, this is one of the safest,” says Allen Cohen, a personal injury attorney and partner in the law firm of Cohen & Greene. “I’m not chasing women and I’m not riding motorcycles, so this is a safe midlife crisis.”

For Cohen, the “crisis” is perhaps more purely midlife than it is for Benfield Pines Adult League-mates Peter Holland, George Bachrach, Hutch Robbins and Dave Corbin. After all, Holland, Bachrach, Robbins and Corbin have all been playing since they were just old enough to lace their skates.

Only the referee stands between Allen Cohen (4, right) and Hutch Robbins (4, left)…but not for long

“I started playing when I was 48,” admits Cohen, who plays forward for his team, the Ambulance Chasers. “I had a son who was playing, and I used to go with him to games and practices. I knew how to skate, but I had never skated on hockey skates before. It looked like a lot of fun, and I was looking for another way of letting off steam, I guess. I’m a fairly competitive person, so this seemed to be a nice way to do it. I saw a program of novice hockey for adults, and I got into that. I stayed in that for about nine, 10 months, and then I joined the league. The people have been very nice to allow me to develop in the league. So I’ve been doing it now for about six years.”

On the other hand, Holland, a sole practitioner in the areas of consumer rights and personal injury litigation who plays defense for Dark Star, claims to have first hit the ice at the age of four when his father “who had never played hockey a day in his life, began getting up at 4:30 in the morning on Saturdays and taking me to a hockey clinic. I started with an old Cooper helmet and shin pads that were tied on to the outside of my blue jeans with Christmas ribbon. Since then, I have been playing hockey virtually uninterrupted for the past 36 years. When my family lived in Moscow in 1973, I played street hockey every day during the winter and spring with Russian children, often using slats of wood for hockey sticks.”

Corbin, a court reporter and owner of Corbin & Hook Reporting, Inc., traces his hockey roots back to childhood. “I think I was about six [when I started playing],” he says. “I grew up in Maine, so it was blood there. You grow up on skates.”

“It is one of the few sports you can play all your life because it’s not a running sport,” adds Bachrach, a partner with Whiteford, Taylor & Preston who specializes in subrogation litigation. “It’s a gliding sport, and by being a gliding sport, [I mean] you can play good defense until late in your life. You know, you couldn’t play basketball or football against 20- and 21-year-olds. We play hockey against them because by being a gliding sport you can play good defense for a long period of time and still be a valuable player on the team.”

For Robbins, a business litigation attorney and partner with Miles & Stockbridge, PC, who like Holland and Bachrach has been playing hockey since childhood, hitting the ice is an outlet. “It is a release, I’ll tell you that,” he explains. “You know it’s a good release when you’re thinking about it in the middle of the day. It’s good to blow off steam. It is kind of conducive to older people, though. I don’t know why. I never thought about the ‘gliding sport’ thing much, but maybe there’s something to it. The fact [is that] it’s physical, but it’s obviously non-contact in the sense that we’re not lining each other up…”

“Did you say non-contact?” Cohen interrupts with a laugh of disbelief.

“It is non-contact,” returns Robbins, “but it’s physical. I mean, we’re hitting each other, but just…”

“Not in a contacting sort of way,” I suggest, unable to resist.

“Yeah, exactly!” Robbins exclaims. “Not in the physical sense. [It’s] metaphysical contact.”

Cohen shakes his head. “If that’s not a lawyer’s definition,” he laughs, “I don’t know what is!”

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By Bachrach’s estimation, Dark Star and the Ambulance Chasers and the 18-and-over league to which they belong are but a sampling of ice hockey’s brushes with the law. “There are probably lawyers who play hockey in other leagues,” he says. “I mean, you just hit one league out of many leagues that play at all different levels. This is what I would consider to be a ‘B-plus’ league. Namely, of all the leagues, ‘A’ league is really top-notch. A ‘B’ league is definitely a step below. A ‘C’ league is another, much greater step below. This is a ‘B-plus’ league because I think we have enough players here who could play ‘A’ level, but choose not to, and there are some people that are ‘B-minus’. But we’re a little bit better than a ‘B’ team. I think if you took any of the teams in this league and played a normal ‘B’ team, we would win most of those.”

“I think most lawyers are pretty competitive folk, and this fits into that interest area,” adds Cohen, who estimates there to be approximately 50 such leagues and 10 ice rinks peppering the Washington/Baltimore Metro area. “When I’m out on the ice, I allow myself the luxury of being very single-minded. That’s the only thing that I think about, and in that respect it’s a real mental release.”

But the point of playing is not simply to vent, as suggested by Cohen’s recollections of one of his more memorable hockey moments.

“My goal was [this],” he explains. “On my 50th birthday, I wanted to be good enough to be able to play with my son, who had played throughout his whole life. And on my 50th birthday, the team allowed my son to play. It was the greatest favor.”

“There are opportunities for anyone,” Holland notes. “That’s the thing about hockey. There’s a clinic here every Thursday. You get 30-, 40-, 50-year-olds out here. I mean, anybody could start at any age. And it’s a wonderful game – a competitive game, but with a lot of camaraderie, a lot of good fellowship among the players.”

But the guys are not without grounding with their regard to the realities of the game. After all, good fellowship or not, one can’t help but wonder: how long can this go on?

Holland sees no trouble so long as he can “stay ahead of the injury curve,” while Robbins plans to hold out for “as long as I possibly can.”

“The first time I played, I sat down on the bench [and] thought I was going to stroke out,” says Cohen, who places the average player’s age in the early- to mid-30s. “It was a rude awakening.” Consequently, he supplements his play with activities such as swimming, bicycling and playing tennis. “You have to have a foundation of physical activity to keep yourself in shape, or else this will kill you,” he adds. “I always have an ache or a pain, but that’s the price you pay for trying to keep in shape.”

Cohen recalls playing in a national tournament in Las Vegas, along with Corbin. “The younger guys were able to go out and gamble and drink and then go play hockey,” he laughs. “I could play hockey, go back to the room and go to sleep.”

“Yeah, some people don’t know,” concurs Corbin, one of the younger members of the group. “[With] hockey, one minute you’re on that ice, and then you are out of juice, period. And that’s why you’ve got to do something on the outside.”

Although Bachrach clearly recognizes the parameters set by age, he plans accordingly. “I’m playing in the over-50 group on Sundays,” he says. “I consider it an investment in my future. At 60, I may not be capable enough to stay in with these young guys, although some of them think I can. So it’s a decision that I’m going to have to make at some point, at what level I want to play.

“My mother is 81 and she still stands on her head for 10 minutes a day,” Cohen adds with a grin, expressing his hope to continue his hockey career for as long as “she’s [still] standing on her head.”

********

(l to r): Hutch Robbins, Allen Cohen, Peter Holland and Dave Corbin
following an intense final period that ended in a score of 5-5. A minor injury took George Bachrach out of play  earlier in the game.

Though ice hockey is not without its “aches and pains,” the teammates of Dark Star and the Ambulance Chasers emphasize the benefits of their sport and welcome anyone with more than a passing interest – with a few helpful tips, of course.

“Learn to skate,” Cohen suggests without hesitation. “Once you learn to skate…”

“Come on out,” adds Holland.

And one need not be a lawyer – though it never hurts, of course. “I don’t think we know the rules of the game any better than anybody else,” says Bachrach.

“On our team, [our being] middle-aged does not detract from the fact that our team can function as a full-service law firm if necessary,” Holland quips, proving that neither time nor hockey can impair a good sense of humor. “Whether your issue is subrogation, corporate, consumer or criminal, we have got you covered. If you play hockey, you’ve got a lawyer.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January, 2004

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