When fans think about professional hockey, they envision playing in packed arenas, flying first class, living in five-star hotels and earning seven-figure salaries.
No one ever wonders about playing in the minor leagues. That’s not part of the dream lifestyle, yet it is reality for more hockey players than not. As sure as you can wager on NHL games at online sports betting, it’s a safe bet that the majority of those who play pro hockey will never live the life of an NHL player.
The minor-league lifestyle consists of performing for peanuts, sometimes as little as a couple of hundred dollars a week. It means playing three games in three cities in three nights and spending hour after hour winding along America’s highways through wintry conditions inside of a bus that the players affectionately call the iron lung, because it is in fact the lifeline that enables them to do what they do.
It’s In The Cards
In the film Slap Shot, the 1977 hockey cult classic about a minor pro squad, the players wile away their endless hour of bus rides via equally endless card games. Sometimes it’s gin, other times poker.
In one scene, forward Ned Braden boasts that he’ll eventually own all of other players’ contracts if he keeps beating them at poker. Disgruntled French-Canadian goaltender Denis Lemieux complains in his fractured English that he “lost his blouse,” following one bad hand. “Shirt,” corrects teammate Jim Ahern, tugging at his own garish 70s-style wardrobe choice. “Shirt.”
The fact of the matter is that cards are the lifeblood of time-wasting on a minor-league hockey road trip. The slap, slap, slap of the cards hitting the table as they are dealt is as familiar a sound to the hockey player as skates digging into the ice or a puck smashing hard off the plexiglass behind the net.
Snarples Is The Game
In the 1980s, Hearts became the game of choice for hockey bus trips. Today, though, it’s a completely new invention that is all the rage on bus junkets.
The players call it Snarples, or Snarps for short.
“I started playing in juniors,” former NHLer Bryan Bickell told NHL.com. “Not my first year, because rookies sit at the front of the bus and just look straight ahead. But for the next four years over juniors and the minors, that’s where I learned it. It’s the hockey game.”
As to where the game got its name, your guess is as good as his.
“I think there are many different names for it, but hockey players call it Snarples,” Bickell explained. “I don’t know where we got it from, but it stuck and everybody knows it.”
As to how it’s played, that can be revealed. Snarples is like Euchre, minus the teams. It also features elements of Hearts in its game play. “You have to take tricks like euchre, but it’s more like hearts because there’s a main suit and someone bids, and then you have to take as many tricks as you say you will,” former NHLer John Scott said.
“If you bid seven, you have to get seven. If you go over or under, you may lose five points, lose 10 points, lose 20 points, however many you miss it by. But if you get it, you get those points. If you bid two, you get two times two is four points plus 10 for 14.”
Cards Are Part Of Hockey Culture
A team searches for that elusive bonding ingredient labeled chemistry and most frequently it is forged during road trips. And games of cards on the bus play a major role in the formation of this very unscientific equation.
“The camaraderie that comes with being on the bus and being with 20 guys, you can’t put a price on that,” minor league forward Brett Liscomb told NewsTimes.com. “If you asked players who have stopped playing, that’s always the part they miss the most.
“Those long bus trips when you’re playing cards in the back, or joking around with one another, that stuff. That makes the hockey part easy, actually, when you have those bonds with the guys on the team.”