Varying widely in age and hockey background, the players gather for Tuesday night co-ed games with much zest and little false pretense.
A few players, such as Anne Marie Karlberg, flash speed and skills seen at higher levels. Others gain comfort in small weekly strides. Competing in the bottom-tier Division 4 at Bellingham Sportsplex, most of them quickly grasp just how demanding their sport is.
But they're buoyed by their love of hockey, a desire to improve, and the pure fun they encounter.
"I lay it all out on the ice," says Beckie Rosillo, a second-year player who jokes about setting a record for concussions in her first season. "It's where I feel purpose in life, where I learn to fail and try to do better."
Most of the players are in their 30s and 40s, plus a handful who are decades older. Most of them live in Bellingham, yet some travel from as far as Everson and Skagit County to compete.
They enjoy a nearly tangible camaraderie - a bond that keeps them returning and, for some, generates friendships beyond the chilly rink.
An air of contentment filters through the group, especially those who have endured hard times.
When Colleen Goertz was 45 and suffering through fibromyalgia syndrome, she sought a new recreational outlet, wondering if she'd ever work through the pain.
Seven years later, she says hockey helped her win that battle.
"I know it did," she insists. "I knew I was a slow skater, the worst on the team, but I kept doing this. It's the only strenuous activity I stayed with."
Rosillo, a 31-year-old who played street hockey while growing up in Yuma, Ariz., missed two seasons with off-ice injuries - a dislocated knee and broken foot - but returned last fall.
Smooth-skating Jan-Erik Overland, the group's oldest player at 70, rejoined the sport after a long recovery from colon cancer. He says former Sportsplex hockey director Garth Butcher talked him into playing again. Now the Norwegian native dons skates three to four times a week.
Division 4 consists of two teams, split almost evenly between men and women, who play a no-contact game of 60 minutes with a running clock.
"There's some contact, but it's incidental," says Brian Sibley, 40, a lifelong hockey fan who started playing in 2010. "Here, the focus is on passing and skating and playing your position. It's a blast."
Sportsplex hockey director Mark Collins, who also coaches the Bellingham Blazers junior league team, says minimal contact fits Division 4, where there's little worry about serious injuries.
"There's an opportunity to try different things while learning the game," he says, "and without the pressure of thinking, 'We're losing 5-0, so I've got to score goals.'"
If passes are missed, pucks mishandled or the pace lost, few complain. When players tumble, they're often helped up. As the participants attest, it's a friendly affair.
"Everyone's having a good time. I haven't met anyone there who isn't a good soul," says Leif LeBlanc, who lost 20 pounds in his first of two seasons.
LeBlanc, 44, grabbed onto hockey after two sons started in the Learn to Play program, a common theme among adult players. "They made it an easy transition for me," he says.
Jill Christensen and Susan Hansen are among other Division 4s who got the playing itch from their kids.
Five years ago Christensen's son, now 10, started playing and fell in love with hockey. He persuaded her to join adult classes. The sport's unique speed-and-skill challenges hooked Christensen in her first scrimmage, and afterward she told her son, "I get it. I get why you're so obsessed."
Hansen grew up doing competitive gymnastics and now is part of a hockey-playing family that includes her husband, a 10-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son who is on the Blazers.
She has participated in the more-competitive Division 3, but feels comfortable in Division 4, where she's one of the better skaters.
"Honestly," she says, "the best feeling comes when you have three girls on a line together, make three passes and score. It's that feeling of making a play."
The group's early ties to hockey follow a diverse path. Rosillo learned about the sport from her father, who grew up in Mexico City. Christensen remembers as a child traveling across the border to Vancouver Canucks games with her family. Overland played on ponds in Norway before moving to California at age 15.
What draws the players to the rink is the group itself, or, as Christensen says, "the positive attitudes," as well as hockey's multifaceted allure.
Overland: "The speed, the finesse and teamwork."
Goertz: "It's as challenging mentally as physically."
Sibley: "It's a great workout, like doing wind sprints for an hour while wearing 30 pounds of protective gear."
LeBlanc: "I spent 10 years as a Ranger in the Army and like to challenge myself. This is a great challenge."
Staying upbeat ranks high, as Rosillo's caring father must know.
"I call my dad after every game and he asks if I scored," Rosillo says. "I say no, and he says, 'That's because you're going to score next game.'"
For the ageless Division 4s, it seems, there's always a next game.
DIVISION 4 HOCKEY
Where: Bellingham Sportsplex, 1225 Civic Field Way
When: Tuesdays; game times alternate each week at 8:45 or 10:15 p.m.
Season: September to March; spring hockey begins late March.
Cost: $460 for the 24-week season, $20 for a one-night drop-in.
Starting up: Newcomers can begin with an adult Learn to Play program.
Of note: The Sportsplex offers several youth and adult programs at different skill levels.
More information: 360-676-1919 or bellinghamsportsplex.com.
Bob Carter is a freelance writer in White Rock, B.C.