When Don Sabourin moved to the Lower Mainland from hockey-mad Montreal back in the 1960s, finding a new group to lace up the skates with was one of his first orders of business.
Luckily for him, the Port Coquitlam Coachmen were there to fill the void.
This season the club celebrates four decades on the ice and the 73-year-old Sabourin is the only original member who still plays regularly.
“It’s a pretty good stretch for a club to be in existence,” he told The Tri-City News in the rec room of his north side PoCo home. “I am the only one who is still playing that has been there from the beginning.”
Each year, the club breaks into two teams, which play each other regularly over the course of the season. There’s even sportsmanship trophies and other individual honours.
With his smaller frame, Sabourin said he can still keep up with some of the young guys on the 35-and-over club. He credits playing with keeping him in good shape and said despite two minor knee surgeries he does not have any issues getting around the ice.
But he concedes that it has been getting harder, especially since new, younger players have joined the ranks.
“I still have the speed to keep up with some of the 40-year-old guys,” he said. “Sometimes they leave me in the dust, though. It can be tough.”
The club was started back in 1975 when Sabourin, Jack Copeland and some other minor hockey coaches decided to rent the rink for a weekly Wednesday-night game.
Over the years, more than 150 players have come and gone but the philosophy has remained the same: have fun and don’t take things too seriously.
“I am convinced it has been successful because we are not trying to win at all costs,” he said. “It is a fun night for the guys to get together. Also, you can’t play hockey and not have beer.”
Most of the Coachmen have become good friends off the ice as well.
Baseball tournaments, golf games and barbecues are regular occasions for the club, which holds functions throughout the year.
When asked about the highlights of his four-decades with the team, Sabourin does not mention a particular breakaway, goal or trophy he won. He said it has been the camaraderie, particularly for a Quebec transplant looking for new friends after moving across the country.
“The highlight is being able to stay in touch with so many people for so long,” he said. “I still speak to all of them. Even the ones from the early days.”
For years, there was little turnover with the Coachmen.
From the early days until about 2000, Sabourin said a membership in the club was fairly difficult to get because nobody wanted to leave.
However, at the turn of the century, some of the old-timers started hanging up the skates for the last time.
Blair Bradley, who is part of the next generation of the team, said he is hoping to make sure the club lasts another four decades.
“Over the years, there has been a passing of the torch from generations down,” he said. “Quite a few of the alumni have children on the team now.”