The puck stops here: Executives find the rink a good place to network

TRAVERSE CITY – Every day, business deals are put on ice.

But in Traverse City, many business deals are made on the ice-the ice at Howe Arena or Centre I.C.E., where more than 500 adults play senior hockey from fall to spring.

"We have a lot of business people playing adult hockey," said Terry Marchand, the executive director at Centre I.C.E. "Some of them are in Sunday night leagues and have been on the same team for years. Some are part of companies that encourage their employees to play."

On a recent Friday morning, Marchand is standing in the hallway that separates two sheets of ice at his facility. Two games are taking place involving business people.

"I'm sure there is a lot of business networking that goes on," said Marchand. "There are doctors, lawyers, bankers and other business men and women who play. They establish friendships and build trust over the years."

On Sundays, there is a men's adult league that has been playing for years. A team that calls itself the Rhinos includes two captains: Tom Aja, CPA, and Jeff Anderson, the general manager of the Traverse City Golf & Country Club.

They have very different jobs but a very similar interest: hockey.

"I stopped playing hockey when I was 16 or 17 years old, but I got back into it about seven years ago and I really enjoy it," said Anderson. "We have a blast. And Tom is one of two teammates who are on our board of directors at the Country Club. So I guess it's like playing hockey with my bosses."

Anderson and Aja are also Rotarians and both say they see a lot of people on the ice who are members of Traverse City service organizations.

Besides the hockey and the camaraderie, Aja says business networking is a side benefit.

"It's not the main reason we play, but business networking does go on," said Aja, a former basketball star at Traverse City Central who is a CPA for Plante & Moran. "Our team also includes some of my co-workers, so it is nice spending time with them outside of the office, doing something healthy in a team atmosphere, as well as gently teasing each other. I usually get a full critique of my performance on Monday morning around the coffee pot."

Lacing up the skates and playing in a league may be beneficial on many levels, but it's not inexpensive.

"Depending on how much money you want to spend, you can easily sink anywhere from $500 to $800 on skates and the rest of your equipment," said Marchand.

If you're a goalie, that can double in cost.

But unlike a youngster, equipment can last many years once you make the initial purchase to play senior hockey.

"You see a lot of business people out on the ice," said Sunny Letizio, who plays in the women's league and is a manager at one of Traverse City's Prescription Shop stores. "There are obvious health benefits to playing, plus the connections you make. There are lots of players who have known each other for decades because of hockey."

Greg Williams, an investment representative for Edward Jones, said hockey is unique in that respect.

"When it comes to interacting, hockey is different," he said. "First of all, you don't just show up and play, like you do in other adult spots. You head to the locker room, where it takes 20 to 30 minutes to get dressed. You talk with the other players and find out what they've been up to.

"During the game, you skate in shifts, so you're spending time together on the bench every couple of minutes. After the game, you have another 20 minutes to a half hour to change and wind down. So there is a lot of interacting going on. Hockey just lends itself to good networking."

Williams said he has gotten "a couple" of clients over the years from playing hockey. But that's not the main reason he plays.

"I just enjoy spending time with quality people," he said. "I think anytime you build new friendships in a new environment, it's beneficial. And the bottom line is this-hockey people like to do business with each other because they've established a certain level of trust. In any level of business, that's important."

Jeff Hickman, president of Republic Bank, which sponsored Centre ICE for the past 10 years, said he is impressed with the number of business people who take part in the adult hockey leagues in Traverse City.

"It just continues to amaze me that the adult hockey program continues to expand," he said. "It has such high participation. And if you went out and did a traffic count as to the number of business people, it would certainly be high." BN