If the Sparta Youth Hockey Rink isn't the most intimidating place in Wisconsin to play hockey, I am terrified to discover just where that place is. This barn is a throwback to my youth hockey days, a small, unheated shack just one step up from the chicken wire enclosures of my '80s era games in Sun Prairie (or was that Stoughton?). Battered boards and glass, swaying, wooden bleachers, a low ceiling; the whole place is cast in a sickly yellow glow that reminds me of the basement from Fight Club. (The heavy metal music that blares every time the clock stops is a very nice touch, though.) Put another way, I would not be surprised at all to hear that illegal dogfighting matches are held in this place during the summer. The boards sure looked like they seen a cockfight or three. And frankly, so did a couple of the people in attendance.
The homey feel of the Sparta Youth Hockey Rink starts with its exterior.
Call it road fatigue, but I was on edge the moment PER1NE rolled into Sparta city limits. It was a dark, cold night and very few people were out; maybe because the entire town appeared to be crammed into the Sparta Ice Rink. This was strictly an SRO affair, folks, which sounds impressive until you realize the place holds a couple hundred people tops.
I arrived a few minutes late and managed to find some standing room in a far corner of the rink amid some feral children in West Salem hockey jerseys who seemed determined to kill each other with their sticks. They spent the entire game bashing pucks, each other and, on at least one occasion, me.
I momentarily took refuge in the stands with the Baraboo/Portage contingent but found the parents there so grumpy and unsupportive of the players that I returned to the Lord of the Flies gathering for the remainder of the game. (Cripes, folks, cut the kids some slack; now I know what it's like to watch Vikings football with me.)
And what a chippy game it was. Lots of penalties on both sides. Sparta, sporting their intimidating black home jerseys, was clearly the superior team. Bigger. Faster. Meaner. I was impressed.
Sparta's Gorniak scores off a beautiful pass from McCabe to go up, 4-0.
The Thunderbirds of Baraboo/Portage never backed down or stopped playing hard, but these Vipers are are a tough bunch of kids, folks, a perfect fit for a rink so tough that even the menu above the snack bar wanted to punch me in the face.
We haven't heard the last of this Sparta team. But remind me to wear long underwear and some heated socks next time I cover a game there.