No NHL, no problem.
Nine Chilliwack hockey fans have found a way to forget the lockout with a good old game of table hockey.
But perhaps it's misleading to call the spectacle that unfolds in Steve Crawford's house every Saturday night a game.
With a custom-made "ice" surface, team T-shirts and a rigorous playing schedule that culminates in playoffs, Scream Hockey (as it's called) represents one man's desire to create a miniature hockey league that's true to some of the best elements of the game.
"A passion. That's probably the word I'd use," says Crawford's wife Karen Hempseed, who graciously hosts the league each week.
"I knew this was his thing when we got married. He brought this into our relationship."
Crawford was just a boy when he created his first table hockey game using beer flats, cut-out hockey card goalies and plastic Hot Wheels tracks to keep the puck inside the arena.
"I loved hockey and I wanted to create a realistic way to play on a board," he says.
Crawford's version of table hockey is different from rod hockey games that feature tiny plastic men on pulleys. It looks a little more like air hockey. Using two hands-one holding a goalie, the other a plastic player-a handler shoots a tiny puck at his opponent's net and tries to defend his own goal. The pace is fast, the scores high.
"I really wanted the freedom, the realism and the speed,"
He began organizing games as a teenager in Vancouver, with the first championship in 1974. Scream Hockey eventually moved with him to Agassiz and then to Chilliwack.
Almost 30 years later, the game has become increasingly sophisticated.
It begins with a table (this is version 4.0), which was designed and put together by Crawford himself. The glossy white board, painted with red and blue lines, reflects the glare from an overhead light. After every game, Crawford uses his Zamboni (a buffer) to remove lint.
At each end of the table rests a red net-metal with white netting, no plastic. The boards are plastered with advertisements for companies significant to league members, such as the places they work. Above, clear Plexiglas prevents loose pucks from hitting spectators.
Like the board, the pucks have also evolved over time, from Hot Wheels car tires to sawed-off pieces of pencil crayon. The latest version comes from the bread trays used by bakeries.
A former bakery employee, Crawford carefully eased off the tiny plastic tabs, a few every shift, taking them home to his table.
The goalies are made from thick cardboard, each one decorated in a team jersey corresponding to his handler's team T-shirt.
Crawford's attention to detail extends beyond the table as well.
His arena, a small room off his living room, is covered with hockey memorabilia. Pennants hang from the ceiling and a score clock adds ambience with cheers, boos and music. A goal light
flashes whenever a puck goes into the net.
In the first game of a recent doubleheader it was the Kansas City Outlaws (Tim Fast) against the Calgary Chinook (Lee Wagner).
With the flick of a wrist, the tiny red puck flew through the air, bounced off the boards, and into the net. Another faceoff, another goal.
Around the board, the guys watched intently, sucking back beverages, talking about the lockout, heckling Wagner about his "flailing" game play.
In the end, the score was Wagner 21, Fast 14.
The games are played in three five-minute periods. A season is 16 games (each player plays another four times). With two games each week, a season lasts about six months.
Playoffs are a theatrical time-Crawford breaks out the fog machine and strobe light-and they end with the presentation of the cup ... to Crawford (always to Crawford because no one has beaten him yet).
But the competition for second and third is fierce, says Patrick Cox, who has played with Crawford the longest.
"I think we all just love hockey and enjoy the chance to play and hang out," Cox adds.
The exception may be Crawford, who admits he doesn't watch the NHL very much anymore.
"Maybe when the Canucks are in the finals," he says. Scream Hockey is his game now-and he doesn't anticipate a lockout any time soon.