The thing about playing hockey when you’re 72 years-old, the older you get, the better you were.
That’s what keeps Bill Turner coming back to the rink at Coquitlam’s Planet Ice several times a week to play competitive and recreational — or “pod” — games in the Tri-Cities Oldtimers Hockey League.
Turner also happens to be the president of the league, that numbers 192 players — all of them over 60 years of age (the oldest is 83). He said the game was bred into him on the Canadian prairie, where he started playing hockey when he was four years-old because that’s all there was to do in a Saskatchewan winter.
Now, he said, hockey keeps him young.
“You’ve got to exercise to keep going,” he said after a recent pod session during which 20 or more players show up and are then divided into four teams to play games on two of the complex’s ice surfaces.
Ivan Giles, 76, didn’t want to keep going. To Delta that is, where he played in a seniors league. So, 10 years ago, he organized the Tri-Cities group with four teams. He said he never imagined those humble beginnings would grow to such a robust recreational endeavour, which wraps up its eight-month season with a massive jamboree next week.
In fact, the league is so successful, there’s a waiting list for playing spots.
“I’m very impressed and amazed,” Giles said.
Mike Diack, 63, is one of the league’s “young whippersnappers.” He said the camaraderie of the dressing room and bench is as valuable as the exercise.
“The people in the room make it fun,” said Diack, who played minor hockey when he was growing up in Burnaby and continued playing recreationally in his adulthood. “You’ve got to have a thick skin in the dressing room.”
Giles said the league has modified some of hockey’s rules to retain the fun factor; there’s no body checking and slapshots aren’t allowed. And everyone takes care around the goalies, because they’re a valuable commodity with only eight of them available to play seven games a week.
Still, “the league is very competitive,” said Don Knudsen, 70.
Although what exactly that means is all about perspective, Diack said.
“When you’re on the ice, you feel fast. But when you’re watching, it’s not as fast.”
A league comprised mostly of players who’ve retired from their workaday careers also presents unique challenges, Turner said. Not the least of those is rousting enough players to fill out a roster when many of them have headed south to warmer climes through the meat of the season.
“Cats are a lot easier to herd,” he said.
Giles’ concerns, on the other hand, are more pragmatic.
“My attitude is I’m still fortunate I can still bend down and do up my skates,” he said. “We’re still legends in our own minds.”
• The Tri-Cities Oldtimers Hockey League season-ending jamboree is being held March 26 to 28, with games from 10 to 11:15 a.m. on all four rinks at Planet Ice.