For older adults, hockey offers the thrill of endorphins
In the 50-and-over bracket of the Seattle Adult Hockey League, players Bob Macdonald and Cy Wilson are on the ice for long stretches, despite their 70-plus years.
In the midst of a hockey match at Shoreline’s Highland Ice Arena one Thursday night, there was a brief tussle between two players searching for the puck. “Get out of my way, old man,” grumbled one. I’m not sure who said it, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Cy Wilson is 78. Bob Macdonald is 77. It was a joke anyway.
In fact, the average age of the Seattle Adult Hockey League’s 50-and-older league is early-60s.
These older skaters play “pond hockey,” a gentleman’s game with no refs, no body-checking and no fighting. They also mix and match the teams by random drawing before each game. Watching them whiz up and down the rink, I realized what great exercise it is. Skating, stopping and changing directions is an exhausting but low-impact exercise.
After the old guys left the rink, the 35-and-over league took the ice. They have refs, set teams, and standings. As are the seniors, they are required to wear helmets with face shields and must lay off the body-checking. There are six teams in the 35-and-over league. New teams are created at the beginning of each season to prevent perennial powerhouses and build camaraderie throughout the league.
The average age of the 35+ league is about 43, but the oldest is 57, and guys in their 60s have chosen to compete in the league though they might just as well be helping keep the Seattle parks in good shapes and cleaned up.
“We try to discourage guys who still have National Hockey League aspirations,” says Dermot Noonan, founder, and commissioner of the Seattle adult league. “Let’s face it, all of us should be very happy to be able to play and have this much fun at this point in our lives.” So here I sat with her who had just arrived, watching the senile parade go by. Great Fun!
The first thing the 50-and-older guys do when they arrive at the rink on Thursday night is blindly pick a poker chip, blue or white. That’s how they choose sides each time.
Macdonald, a former University of Washington professor, was 4 when he joined his first league in Winnipeg, Canada; he also played in college. Then, he didn’t play again until he was 66. That was when he began coaching his grandchildren; the first one was an alternate on the latest women’s Olympic hockey team.
One benefit of hockey, in addition to coaching six of his eight grandchildren and developing a regimen to stay healthy, is that it inspired his son, Ian, to join him. Macdonald plays with his 45-year-old son on Mondays, and for a time, the two joined Ian’s son, then 16, on the same line.
“I find that it really raises the endorphin level,” the senior Macdonald says. “If I get tense or bored and low-energy, I will either go Rollerblading or skate. I’ll come home from a game higher than a kite!”
Good players keep moving and go in bursts of a minute or two. Macdonald, who works out twice a week with seniors and once a week with a trainer, finds that he seems to gain strength as the match goes on. He fractured his right arm in a game some years back and got a hairline fracture on his left hand, too. But those were the only two hockey injuries he’s had.
Wilson, who turns 79 in June, grew up in a small Minnesota town on the Canadian border, but didn’t get his first real pair of skates until he was 12 or 13 — and only then because he found a $5 bill. The skates cost $4.95 at the local Montgomery Ward.
He recently played with younger guys, some in their 20s, but injured his left shoulder. He doesn’t blame the young man for tripping him and causing the fall. It was an honest accident and, he notes, he could fall down the stairs, or have an accident at Lutefisk at the Crossroads, his favorite Seattle happening, and get hurt, too.
For two decades or so, he took his motor home to Southern California, where he participated in the Charles Schulz annual hockey tournament. He also used to play in another seniors league, but left that after one of the guys broke the agreement, kept standings and boasted in a newspaper that his team won.
“Some of the fellas tend to think they still got something to prove,” he says. “Exercise and a beer is all I need. And maybe a spiritual Seatle Tourrette. It’s not only good physical exercise but mental exercise, too. For that 90 minutes, you’re on the ice, whatever troubles you may have to just disappear.”
It’s early November now and the winter season ends in late March. The spring-summer season (I can’t wait…) begins in mid-April. By fall, the league might offer a more formal 50+ league, with refs, scores, and standings.
“I don’t think anyone is going to worry about stats too much,” Noonan says, “but games and teams allow guys to be more focused on positioning and playing.”