The love for ice hockey in Chicago can be traced back to its Canadian roots in 1840, when it started as a mere carnival event. Several years later, hockey also became popular in the United States, starting as a series of club-driven leagues and then becoming a university sport, until it finally morphed into the United States Amateur Hockey League in 1896. 

It wasn’t until 1926 that hockey indeed took the hearts of Chicagoans when a team from Portland, Oregon, was purchased and transplanted to the city and renamed the Blackhawks. The rest, as they say, is history. We all know the storied history of the Chicago Blackhawks, and in many ways, the Chicago Outdoor Hockey League offers a glimpse into what life was like in those formative years.

Today, the Chicago Outdoor Hockey League (COHL) offers hockey players with a competitive spirit the opportunity to play the sport they love in the city they hold dear. It’s that spirit that Gunzo’s wants to nurture and support, and it’s why when COHL players need equipment, they turn to us.

What Is the Chicago Outdoor Hockey League?

Two players gearing up for a puck drop at a Chicago Hockey League game

“Hockey” licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr by mark6mauno

The Chicago Outdoor Hockey League was created so coed players 18 and older can enjoy the sport in a recreational, non-checking format. All the games are played the way they were meant to be, outdoors. You’ll find COHL games, tournaments, and other exciting events designed to entertain hockey lovers throughout the Chicagoland area.

The league allows players to submit their application as an individual player, much like a free agent. Those club teams with bigger aspirations can submit their entire team to compete within the league.

Chicago Outdoor Hockey League Divisions

The league splits into divisions based on several factors. Divisions change each season, and you are encouraged to check back with the league to determine the current format.

The C League – Intermediate Skill

Most hockey players fall into the C-range of intermediate skill. This skill level means players possess an average skill in both skating and hockey techniques. Most players have played at least five years, two of which were spent in an organized environment that included coaching. The C-level players possess a complete understanding of the rules and have at least average stick handling skills. Players can skate forwards and backward comfortably and can perform the traditional “hockey stop” with ease.

The Chicago Outdoor Hockey League separates the C-League into two divisions: the Upper C and Lower C. The Upper C division has players with 5-10 years of experience playing at the C-level. The Lower C division players have 2-5 years of experience. 

The D-League – Beginners

A D-level division was formed for those novice hockey players with lesser defined skating and stick handling skills. The D-level has two divisions: Novice and Beginner. Novice players should be comfortable skating forwards and backward and performing the hockey stop. They typically need to improve with stick handling, shooting, and other basic hockey skills. 

The Beginner level was created to encourage adults to take up the sport. This level allows those who have been skating for at least a year, enjoy playing hockey, and want to take the next step to join in organized team play. Those in the Beginner level typically have less than three years of skating experience and maybe only a year of some type of hockey training involving a coach.

This divisional setup allows players to remain in groups appropriate to their skill level so they can develop and thrive. Beginners can enter the sport knowing they won’t have to compete against players well above their skill level. At the same time, those advanced players won’t have to worry about new players slowing down the on-ice action.

Elite Level Players

Previously, the COHL offered Elite, Advanced Semi-Pro, and Advanced level divisions that included recent professional players and those with semi-pro and collegiate hockey experience. These players are welcome to join the C Division, but until more players and teams show interest, a separate Elite Division remains on hold. 

Game Format

All games are played outdoors, the way hockey was meant to be played. Outdoor play makes the games more challenging and entertaining because the weather becomes a factor that you don’t see in professional hockey. All divisions are open to men and women 18 years or older. 

Teams play in a five-on-five format with full equipment, although shoulder pads are optional. The league recommends teams have their own jerseys. You can order team jerseys online from Gunzo’s. Game times consist of two 27-minute halves, with a stop time during the last two minutes with a two or less goal differential. Penalties are called and enforced with penalty shots or suspensions if deemed appropriate.

The season spans a minimum of nine games, with every team making the playoffs. A single-elimination format for the playoffs keeps the game interesting. The league runs an All-Star game for each skill level. You must be nominated by your team and then selected by the league to participate.

The league pays a two-person referee team to officiate every game, regardless of division. Even the stats get tracked by scorekeepers and updated online, so players can keep an eye on their performance against the rest of the league.


Games are played on Chicago’s northside at Iceland Skate Complex on Ballard Road in Niles. On the south side of Chicago, Bobby Hull Community Ice Rink hosts the COHL games. All games get scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Additional games or rescheduled games may be played at MB Financial Place in Rosemont. The Final Championship games for each division will be held at Iceland Skate Complex unless otherwise noted.

At Gunzo’s, we know hockey. We eat, sleep, and breathe the sport. Our service staff is experts with all things hockey. From pads to skates we’ve got the answer. We invite you to browse our hockey accessories online. For a more hands-on experience, you can stop by one of our three locations in Chicago, River Forest, or Morton Grove at any time.