Ice Hockey in Riverwest

The Ontological Autonomy of Ice Hockey:Building Community in Riverwest by Bob Buss

“I just want to build a sense of community.” Jeremy Prach is shuffling around on his backyard ice rink, located on an empty lot between the two houses he owns on Pierce Street. 

We’re supposed to be talking about his ice rink and an annual hockey tournament on New Year’s Day in Riverwest. But we end up talking about a history of Riverwest communities – Jeremy has created a number of little “temporary autonomous zones” on the way to creating his hockey rink. 

I always referto Jeremy as having taken over “my” shift at the Riverhorse –Monday night with a raffle with TPIR theme music – that I left fiveand a half years ago. I worked it at when the bar opened, butsurrendered it when I left to teach in the inner city. He now teachesspecial education at Riverside High School. I had been doing the samewhen we met.

Jeremy moved toRiverwest in the early 90s. At that time his mother pointed out, “Ifyou insist on living in that neighborhood, you might as well buy ahouse there.” She found the house on Pierce Street that Jeremy livein today. “Look,” she said, “this one is only $18,000.” Andso a – mostly – intentional community began.

In order to payfor his house, Jeremy filled every nook and cranny, bedroom andcloset with punk rock musicians, most of whom paid some kind of rent.Nationally touring bands created even more community in the basement.Jeremy has survived almost two decades of punk rock. He played inseveral bands, and put out seven-inch records on his own label, RedSwan Records.

That period alsosaw an adventure involving a race car that he drove for Fuel Café.He stored it in his decrepit concrete box of a garage – long sincetorn down and replaced by the lavish “Garage-Mahal,” that Jeremybuilt pretty much single-handedly. He claims the race car driverstint came as an idea to create community, but nobody showed up tosee him race.

When the timecame to get married, Jeremy was Riverwest all the way. The weddingwas at St. Casimir and reception at the Polish Falcon.

After thesubsequent arrival of sons Loyal and Merit, the punk bands didn’tcome over to play anymore. Nationally touring Cutie, a DIYpunk rock band consisting of Jeremy and a couple of guys referred toas “the Kevins” (both several years his junior), was his finalmusical adventure. Cutie made its final recordings at Bottle RocketStudio (in my basement), back in the spring and summer of 2003.

That was justbefore he put an entire second and half third story on his house. Hecreated a flyer that read, “Calling All Favors!” A legion ofsub-culture figures came creeping out of the woodwork, assembling toraise his upper stories.

Photos of theproject revealed a bunch of guys who all appeared to be wearing “fakeAmish beards.” I guess mine was real, as was Jacob Sutrick’s, andmaybe a few others. We had an informal beard contest going on.

Jeremy, Jacoband I were on the Tuesday night men’s league at the Falcon Bowl, in2003-2004. Jeremy and Jacob had formed a team the year before, andthat year it had split into two teams. I bought a house through theconnections I made in that league.

These daysJeremy has found it necessary to put some limits on his passion forcommunity building and team sports.

“I get oneextra-curricular activity in my schedule according to my marriagecontract, and that’s hockey,” Jeremy says.

I saw Jeremyplay at the Pettit Center on a weeknight league in 2004 as a guardfor the Norse, which I’m told contained a few cronies from theearly days of Fuel Café. More recently, he and fellow RiverwesterRalph Anzivino, Jr., played regularly and eventually decided to spinoff into their own team. They did just that, and once again thedo-it-yourself ethos of Jeremy’s brand of community has to atemporary autonomous zone that would make Hakim Bey smile – anotherdeliberate act of ontological autonomy.

How can youdescribe an ice rink on your back yard any other way?

So using theorganizing tool of the Monday night shift at the Riverhorse, Jeremybrought hockey players from Bay View, Cedarburg, Delafield and theEast Side together to brave the single digit temperatures and holdthe Second Annual Riverwest Classic this past New Year’s Day. Heplays jock jams – Misfits, Ramones, and Melvins songs – to keepwarm. A scoreboard dangles between two trees, and a back yard treehouse offers skybox seating.

Jeremy saw an adfor an ice rink liner in Parent magazine, and built the rinkthree years ago.

“I feel thatwith Mike Mcgarry and Paul Kjelland living next door we can buildanything.” They live across the rink and helped him build the treehouse. When Jacob lived there, they put in horse shoe pits. Who knowswhat will come next?

As the New YearsDay tournament comes to an end, the final score does not look goodfor the Riverwest team. “Make the title of the article Bay ViewWins,” Jeremy suggests.

But I have todisagree. It seems to me that Riverwest wins with almost two decadesof Jeremy Prach building community on Pierce Street.