(Hockey Player Magazine, May 2020)
I’m getting older. I guess my friends are getting older too.
“Get on the list,” he texted.
“Geezer hockey, Friday morning, minimum age is 50.”
“It’s been a while since I skated on ice.”
“You’ll be fine. Other geezers will be there. They’re cool guys.”
With that my brother threw down the gauntlet. After years and miles away from ice hockey, Kirk dialed me in to play pick-up with a bunch of old farts.
I bragged to my Blazer teammates about the opportunity. “I’m road-tripping to Colorado. Look at these old blades. Gonna play at altitude, in-line AND on ice.”
“Aw man,” Tex sighed, “I haven’t played on ice since forever.”
Big Tim interjected, “Dude, you’re taking your old CCM Tacks? I once had a pair. It’s like riding a bike. Except you’re skating on eighth-inch wide blades, not wheels, on ice, not a plastic floor.”
Tex mused, “You say skating on ice is like riding a bike except that it’s nothing like riding a bike?”
I loaded my car for the thirteen hundred mile trek. I carried bulky hockey gear and didn’t want an airline to lose my stuff. I rolled into Colorado Springs two days later amidst three blizzards. Eight inches of snow blanketed the city. Kirk said to meet him at the skate shop the next morning. “Bring six bucks to sharpen your blades.”
I typically buy gear on-line as the nearest hockey shop is in Oakland, three hours from Chico. It’s difficult shopping on-line. There’s a peculiar romance between hockey players and their gear. For sticks a player must try out a few before finding “the one.” It’s the feel, the snap, the flex. I chose a new stick and handed the clerk my CCM Tacks. He snickered, “Where did you get these? We’ve never seen blades like this. Hahaha. Ancient.”
“What is it about my skates? These CCMs with Prolite blades were once THE skate to have.”
“Hahaha, these must be 40 years old.”
“They are,” I said. “Got ’em in 1980.”
“I was born in 1999,” the wise guy smirked. “Hah… I’ll do my best.”
Six bucks later my old CCMs were sharper than cleavers.
I warmed up by skating in an open practice session with Kirk. My legs felt great. Memories surged through my mind, like the night when I lost four lug nuts and a tire after a practice. I was driving teammates home in my 1970 Ford Maverick. The Maverick slid across Pikes Peak Boulevard and landed on the front steps of the Peak Theater. A police car arrived within minutes. The officer queried me.
“You boys alright? The theater manager reported sparks and a car parked on his sidewalk.”
“Yep, we’re good.”
“Find your nuts, put on your tire, and get home boys.”
Kirk and I arrived at Geezer hockey thirty minutes early. I stared at the ice while the Zamboni lapped. I meditated, skating through opponents and my imagination at the same time.
We entered the locker room and grabbed a seat. An old codger in is early seventies welcomed us. I pulled the CCMs from my bag. The guy howled.
“Hahaha, where’d you get those?”
“What’s wrong with my skates?”
“Keep with the times, get new stuff. Hey, you’re sitting where Gramps and Moose usually suit-up. They might get cranky.”
Moose then walked in, an Italian guy originally from the east coast. Said he coordinated Rutgers University’s first college hockey team. “See my bicep?”
“Why is it inside your elbow?”
“Hell if I know, happened after I checked a guy about fifty years ago. My doctor said he could pull it up with a tendon but I’d miss hockey for eight months. I told him to forget it.”
“What’s the knob on your chest?”
“I got checked sixty years ago and broke my collar-bone. Coach pressed down on it right then and there. Been that way since I was 19.”
In came Gramps, hunched over carrying his bag and sticks. He dropped his gear on the floor, sat on the bench, and leaned against the wall.
“That’s a long walk from the parking lot,” he sighed. “Boys, you’re sitting in my spot. You must be new. That’s okay. I’ll get you on the ice.”
We hopped on the ice and took to our benches, twenty of us geezers wearing dark or white jerseys. We’d scrimmage, ten to a team. No checking was allowed but incidental contact was assumed. We’re playing hockey after all.
Several lady skaters joined us, one in her fifties and the other in her late sixties. Silver streaked strands flopped behind their helmets. One gal sat next to me on the bench.
“You must be Kirk’s brother.”
“Yep, first time on ice in at least 15 years.”
“He asked me who was President when you got your skates.”
I exhaled, “Jimmy Carter.”
She laughed then whispered, “When Gramps gets the puck leave him alone. He usually shoots from the left-wing side because he’s blind in his left eye. For 83 he does pretty well.”
“Gramps is a one-eyed octogenarian? Holy cow.”
We scrimmaged over an hour. One of the players alerted our bench that the score was tied 9-9.
“Gramps has six goals. Keep the puck away from him.”
The rink manager then revved the Zamboni engine. The Geezer session was done.
We returned to the locker room and cajoled with Gramps. Gramps was a retired teacher who coached youth and high school teams from the 1970s through the 1990s. His son played on the same bantam travel team as Kirk. We shared stories about players and coaches of that era and common friends we all knew. Gramps squinted at me, his right eye twinkling.
“Hockey’s been very good to me,” he said. “I’ve made life-long friends. Come back and play again.”
He smiled. “But get yourself a new pair of skates.”
Eric Miller skates with the Hamilton City Hockey Club at the North Valley Hockey and Sports Complex near Chico, California. Visit his Etc. Guy blog or contact him via Facebook. He was having a great spring season until that stupid COVID virus shut things down….