After the pandemic put it on ice for two years, the annual Congressional Hockey Challenge will return Thursday.
The game pits the Lobbyists against the Lawmakers, where the latter is loosely defined to include staff and just about anyone else with a .gov email address who knows how to skate. That greatly reduces — but does not fully eliminate — the odds of seeing defenseman Tom Emmer, R-Minn., deliver a Scott Stevens-on-Eric Lindros-style hit on forward Mike Quigley, D-Ill. (or vice versa).
Indeed, fans won’t see much checking at all — at least, nothing legal — but Lawmakers’ captain and forward Tim Regan said there’s still plenty of hits the refs don’t catch.
“I got hit last game. [Lobbyist] Chris Gullott hit me crossing the blue line — he laid a hip check on me,” said Regan, one of the game’s co-founders. “So, there is definitely contact and there’s that drive to win, because not only do most of us know each other, but we’ve been playing with and against each other — some of us for 20 years, 30 years.”
Besides Quigley and Emmer, forward Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., is the only member of Congress expected to lace up his skates this year. Among the three, Emmer, who captained his Division I squad at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is the man to watch.
“You’ll see flashes of brilliance out of Emmer,” said Lobbyists forward and captain Nick Lewis.
The event grew out of a weekly pickup game at the Mount Vernon Rec Center rink in Fairfax County, Va., little more than a bunch of guys skating around just for the fun of it. “It’s a bunch of friends, we don’t keep score,” said Lewis, a UPS lobbyist and another CHC co-founder. “We usually have cheesy hair metal blaring from the speakers.”
After one skate back in 2009, a couple of the guys got to talking and the idea arose of emulating the Congressional Baseball Game or the Congressional Basketball Game, but on ice. The group realized they had plenty of connections to Congress, and a few weeks later, the inaugural hockey challenge was held.
Regan became the Lawmakers’ captain by dint of his nonpartisan position working for the House Office of the Clerk. That access to representatives from both parties gave him a natural recruiting edge that has helped keep the game going over the years.
But it was Senate Photographer Jeff McEvoy who got the game’s first big name: Sen. John Kerry.
“There’s a bunch of lobbyists who take credit for getting John Kerry to play,” but that’s bull, said Lewis. “[McEvoy] badgered John Kerry relentlessly, and finally Kerry is like, ‘If you shut the f--- up, I will play.’”
Despite hip replacements and a bum knee, Kerry, who played on Yale’s varsity squad, was all in.
“One day, I got a call on my cellphone, and it was him,” said Regan. “And he wanted to talk strategy and figure out what kind of lines we were going to run, and I was like, ‘You are the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. How do you have time for this?’”
Like all congressional sports events, philanthropic fundraising provides the excuse to hit the ice and relive the glory days, and over the years, the CHC has raised $1.2 million total for a handful of charities.
From the start, the game has benefited the oldest inner-city youth hockey club in North America, the Fort Dupont Cannons. In recent years, it’s also helped hockey programs for wounded and disabled veterans.
Starting this year, the game will also support the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association’s efforts to create a viable women’s pro league. Two of those players, forwards Sophia Shaver and Baylee Wellhausen, will play Thursday.
“They’re going to be a little bit better” than everyone else on the ice, said Regan.
“We have one on each team, so it’ll balance out,” said Lewis.
The puck drops Thursday at 7 p.m. at the MedStar Capitals Iceplex in Arlington. The Canadian American Business Council is hosting a reception for players and fans beforehand at 5:45 p.m. that is open to all ticket holders.