If you watched the above video without context, you might not realize the hockey players are all over the age of 50, many over 60 and some into their 70s. These men skate fast, they skate backward and they are aggressive — though they don’t check (crashing into another player intentionally to disrupt play) — a rule laid out by the rotating group that comes to play hockey at the Guidant John Rose MN OVAL in Roseville, Minn.
“About five years ago, some gentlemen came to us and asked if there’s any way we could have an age range for some of the older gentlemen to play at,” Kevin Elm, an employee at the Roseville Skating Center said in the above video produced by Luke Heikkila for Twin Cities PBS (TPT). “It started, and it grew, and it just kept growing. So we’ve got 50 plus, 60 plus, 70 plus. It’s just been great.”
A Return to the Ice
Several — if not most — of the men who participate are former hockey players who gave up the sport when they could no longer keep up with the younger players. Hockey isn’t the typical sport older adults are encouraged to play or keep playing, so many of these men put away the stick and gloves once they hit 30 or 40.
“When I quit working I was looking for other things to do and I met this guy about my age and we starting talking about how cool it would be to be able to play hockey again,” Glen Knippenberg said. “But we didn’t want to play against guys who were 40 years younger than us.”
Another player, Gary Ackert, echoes this, mentioning that many of the players over 70 have artificial joints and the game play needs to be a little less rowdy.
“Playing against 40-year-olds was… that was not fun. It was hard to get your stick on the puck,” he said.
But Ackert doesn’t see his age, 71, as a disadvantage.
“I think people are realizing you can pretty much do anything for the rest of your life. You can play hockey, or you can do anything you want — if you keep yourself in shape and stay active,” he said.
Hockey Competition and Camaraderie
It’s not just a love for the sport that keeps these rink rats coming back to the ice.
Making new friends after 50 isn’t an easy feat, but the chance to participate in this unique program gave these men an opportunity to meet new people their age with a common interest. One player said he enjoys “associating with some of the guys who are a little bit younger.”
Groups like this are few and far between. Elm, who works at the rink, said their open hockey program for older adults is one of the only around, if not the only.
“Right now we’re turning so many people away,” Elm said. “They only let 24 people in on a regular basis. Last week I know there were 31 that called in and wanted to skate, so if some other arena started something like this up, I think it would prove to be beneficial for them.”
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