CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- For the better part of the last two decades, the Richmond Ice Zone in Chesterfield has been helping foster a love for hockey in Central Virginia, a decidedly northern past time in the heart of the old south.
While there are hundreds of athletes that come there to pursue and perfect their chosen sport or craft, it's Thursday nights that bring the most joy to the ice.
"They'd probably come seven days a week if their wives would let them," said John Lovell, the Ice Zone's Hockey Director. "It's such a great group of guys."
"It's great exercise and camaraderie," added Dan Pellegrino. "The game is great. You never get sick of playing the game."
It doesn't take three periods of watching these guys skate around to realize they are no longer kids in appearance, but Thursday nights return them to kids at heart.
There are only two rules here: you have to be over 35 and you have to love hockey.
"This night is about going out, playing the game and having fun," said Patrick DeFur.
"There's no referees, no scorekeeper," explained Lovell, a former Richmond Renegade. "They call their own offsides. They just love being here and seeing each other every week."
Lovell helped to create the league and considers it his favorite of all the hockey played on his ice. The games last around 90 minutes. The evenings last a lot longer.
"They hang out. They play for an hour and drink for four," Lovell said. "They stay here until about 2 in the morning usually. Metamucil was the talk one night. They talked about Metamucil for 2 hours."
The medical talk has gotten more serious at times.
Six years ago, DeFur kept feeling a twinge in his chest when he would come off the ice. A teammate at the time, who was a registered nurse, insisted he see a doctor, or the teammate was going to rat on Patrick to his wife.
"Had the stress test, you might have a slight blockage," Defur recalled. "So (his doctor) puts me in for a catheterization. I come out of the anesthesia, he says 'Yeah, you're scheduled for quadruple bypass tomorrow morning.'"
Patrick's heart was between 75 and 95 percent blocked. Doctors told him his body had compensated for the blockage with what's called collateral blood flow, the heart working around the problem to supply the body with oxygen.
"The collateral blood flow was keeping me alive," DeFur explained. "I really attribute hockey to saving my life."
"If he had stopped playing hockey, his doctor said his heart might have failed him," Pellegrino added. "Hockey is his life. Hockey has given him life."
Doctors said he needed 90 days to recover enough to get back on the ice. Those three months were spent with the sole intent of returning to his friends and the game he has played since he was 7.
"He wrote us a real nice letter, 5 or 6 of us, just thanking us for a second life type of thing," Lovell said. "He had the quadruple bypass and he comes out and skates all the time. He just wanted to thank us for making it so easy. It's a loving group."
"I will play until I can't move anymore," DeFur said. "I love the sport. I enjoy it. It's a good group of guys."
"Once you get out on the ice, the rest of the world goes away."
The Brew Ins, as the league is called, held a charity hockey event last year to raise money for the families of the two State Troopers killed in Charlottesville last August. They plan on another event later this summer with a benefactor to be named later.
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