They aren’t particularly fast. They don’t crash and bash as much as they bump and nudge. And when they lose their footing, they tend to take a good long while getting back up again.
But there’s something about these guys that keeps your eyes glued to the ice. Their positional play is superb. They guard the puck like nobody’s business and pass and receive it as if Howie Meeker himself had drawn it up on his telestrator. In short, there’s an intelligence and a level of skill to their game that goes beyond that of typical adult rec hockey.
But this isn’t typical adult rec hockey. Upstairs in Boomers Bar and Grill, the pub that overlooks two of the four rinks at North Delta’s Planet Ice, Ralph Haugland preps the goodies.
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A few T-shirts, some bottles of wine and boxes of golf balls, and a joyfully hideous trophy comprising a hunk of lumber, a manual wood planer and a protective cup – presumably unused.
They call it "Stanley’s Cup." Haugland, rotator cuff injury and all, is the chairman of the six-team tournament unfolding below. Soon, dozens of weary players will arrive for post-tourney food, drinks, conversation, and awards. But not before Haugland drops the bombshell.
This is the "One Last Time Spring Tournament," the final 2014-2015 season fling for the 70-plus division of the Greater Vancouver Oldtimers Hockey Association. And as the name suggests, none of the players is under the age of 70. A couple of them top the 80 mark.
So how is it that these guys can look so darned good out there?
For one thing, says Haugland, "It’s recreation, sure. But we play to win. This is far more intense than pick-up hockey."
But one glimpse of South Surrey’s Dennis Anderson, a defenceman currently on injured reserve with a separated shoulder, and you really begin to catch on.
Anderson may be 72, but he looks a couple decades younger and is built like a brick house. He didn’t even begin playing ice hockey until his late 40s – a time when most have already given it up – but was a ball hockey and gym veteran long before that. These days, Anderson regularly sails off into the Fraser Valley on his road bike.
Keith Scott wanders in, broken ribs and all. A resident of Ocean Park, Scott played Tier 2 Junior A in Ontario many moons ago, worked a stint in the air force, and continued to play throughout his life.
He says he loves the Over-70 league because there’s no way, at the tender young age of 82, he could keep up with the wee pups in the Over-60 league.
Over there is Cam Kerr. Kerr played Junior with the Saskatoon Blades before spending four years with the Brigham Young University team. He’s since coached Midget and Junior and national U18s, and owned a hockey school on Vancouver Island. He’s now a scout for the national women’s squad.
The introductions continue and it soon becomes clear that most of these dudes live and breathe the sport. Potential injury, it would seem, is something this group is quite willing to endure, though Haugland cautions that provisions are in place should more serious stuff occur.
"We have an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) at each rink in the (Planet Ice) complex, at the player’s bench. And at least once a year we have a Red Cross guy come over and teach us how to use the machine.
"We had to use it one time… last year during a game. It was successful."
The pub is full and boisterous now, everyone sharing stories and wings and beers. Haugland takes a quick look around.
"Hockey is one fine game, isn’t it?" Goble@shaw.ca