Hockey helps Real Salt Lake general manager cool off | ParkRecord.com

Hockey helps Real Salt Lake general manager cool off

Craig Waibel says rink serves as refuge from the beautiful game

Craig Waibel poses with his hockey gear -- the first he has owned since playing pond hockey as a kid in Idaho. Waibel, who played Major League Soccer for more than a decade, says it felt good to indulge in games he couldn't risk playing as a professional athlete.

What do you do when you're the general manager of a Major League Soccer team and you need to get away from the beautiful game?

If you're Craig Waibel of Real Salt Lake, you play hockey.

On Sunday night, Waibel suited up for the AK Bars, a silver-league hockey team, at the Park City Ice Arena. Like the rest of his team, Waibel took the ice with a Russian approximation of his name scrawled across his jersey in Cyrillic (it's a long story), to play against the Park City Iceholes. There wasn't a soul in the stands. Which is fitting because Waibel is by no means an expert hockey player.

Before playing with the AK Bars, his only experience – besides watching the game on TV – was pond hockey in Idaho.

"(My dad) bought us skates and basically threw us out on the frozen lake and said 'Go,'" Waibel said. "Then he bought us a stick and that's how we learned to stand up. Very rudimentary hockey lessons: Use the stick to stand up, hit the puck if you can. That's basically the same theory I use now."

He said playing hockey serves a lot of purposes for him. For starters, due to the risk of injury it was forbidden fruit for the more than a decade he spent as a professional soccer player in the MLS.

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Now retired from the field and a resident of Park City, he gets to indulge in his hockey fandom. It's a great way to blow off steam, and is a much-needed break from pouring over scouting videos and statistics.

"I come out here and this has nothing to do with second division Croatian soccer, so it's quite fun," he said. "It doesn't matter what line of work you're in, every once in a while you have to turn it off."

It's such a departure from the beautiful game, that even being average at it doesn't bother him.

"I'm one of the fortunate ones that I had a professional athletic career, so all my competitive juices are pretty much gone," he said. "If I get anywhere near upset I just think, 'What the heck am I doing? I won some championships in MLS, so if I'm getting worked up over a silver-league hockey game, I'm doing something wrong."

He said a friend recommended the league to him and, after some convincing, he bought all new hockey equipment and joined a team.

Waibel described the league as "a microcosm" of Park City.

"Everybody wants exercise, healthy exercise, healthy living, and for the most part, (shows) pretty good sportsmanship," he said. "Everyone's willing to help. Coming down here from Seattle, that wasn't necessarily the norm, so it's been an awesome transition for me, and this team has been an extension for everything I believe about this city."

Waibel said the game against the Iceholes was particularly fun because, on top of winning 6-3, his neighbor and friend was the goalie.

"I got to score on him three minutes in, which basically the rest of the game didn't matter to me," he said. "We could have lost 10-1 and it wouldn't matter because I had him, I netted one; that was it. I almost took the skates off and just left."

But Waibel's also been on the other end of that situation a few times, and said, in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal.

"Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't, and luckily for me, I'm not too bothered by it either way," he said.