For the record, Jaromir Jagr plans on playing a 30th season of professional hockey in a Czech league this season and told the New York Times in April that he’d welcome a return to the NHL. He’s 46 years old.>
Gordie Howe played in the NHL at age 52. Chris Chelios retired at 48.
Heck, Paul Newman was 52 when “Slap Shot,” in which he did much of his own skating, came out in 1977.
But you don’t have to be one of the all-time greats to play hockey — and to play it well — into your 40s, 50s and beyond.
Play On, Whatever You Play
Generally, competition and physical activity are encouraged for older athletes. The benefits are many. Staying active will keep your weight in check, lower the odds of contracting diabetes and heart disease, and will, through the release of endorphins that contribute to a sense of well-being, enhance your mental outlook.
However, if you find yourself visiting a doctor multiple times for the same injury, you’ve developed a chronic condition. That could mean it is time to modify your activity — and switching sports altogether isn’t off the list of possibilities.
But, there are ways to modify within the framework of the game you love — go from full-court to half-court basketball, switch from singles to doubles in tennis, or cut back to nine holes instead of 18 (or 27) on the golf course. In that regard, hockey has a long history of modifying its game for the rec league player, and tweaking further still for the older crowd.
Speaking of history, right now hockey in older age groups is mostly a man’s world — but probably not for long. Women’s registration for USA Hockey programs grew in 2017-18 at a rate nearly 6.5 times greater than men’s registrations. From barely 6,300 registered female players in 1990, USA Hockey now boasts more than 79,000.
USA Hockey Adult Nationals (for age groups ranging from 30+ to 70+) ban checking. Fighting is not tolerated and could prompt expulsion from the tournament. Major penalties (spearing, butt-ending, etc.) are also grounds for expulsion. Periods are shortened to 15 minutes.
Hang On, Snoopy
One great example of hockey for older players is Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament.
The annual event is held in Santa Rosa, Calif., at the arena founded by “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz. More than 1,100 players, in age divisions from 40-and-up through 75-and-up, participated in 2018 — the 43rd edition of the event, which typically features 70 teams with nearly half coming from outside California and about a dozen from Canada.
The event modifies USA Hockey rules in a manner not unusual for senior play: no slap shots (a player’s stick cannot go above the tendon protector of their skate) and no body checking. Periods are 20 minutes, but with a running clock.
A Worthy Workout?
As fitness pursuits go, donning the skates once a week in a rec league won’t turn you into an Adonis. But, a paper published in the November 2016 issue of the Journal of Sports Science, “Forecheck, backcheck, health check: the benefits of playing recreational ice hockey for adults in Canada,” found some interesting results among once-a-week players over 35 in a country where more than 1 million adults play recreational hockey:
- Seventy-nine percent perceived their health as “excellent or very good.”
- One percent reported their health as “fair or poor.”
- They had lower incidences of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease than peers who played less frequently.
Moreover, with checking removed, hockey is relatively low-impact. Skating is much easier on the joints than running, plus it improves balance by engaging the many small stabilizer muscles around the hips, knees and ankles that are tough to reach in a typical gym workout. And many rec league players find themselves being motivated to work out apart from games so that they’re better able to withstand the rigors of that weekly game.
Many older athletes know of the transformative nature of sports participation, especially participation in team sports.
As children, many of us make our first and best friends from among the kids with whom we were thrown together under one sponsor or another’s banner. As adults, having accountability to a new group of like-minded competitors can motivate you from the post-dinner couch in a way that a treadmill or elliptical will never be able to do.
Playing age-group, rec league hockey is more than an opportunity to come up with a funny team name — as if anyone, anywhere, will top the Geri-hat-tricks. It will improve your physical health and your mental outlook and processing, keep you engaged in a community, build friendships, foster connectedness and accountability — and it will be fun. That’s another thing older hockey players tend to remember more often than their younger counterparts. It’s “playing,” right? If you’re not out for blood, it’s a richer experience that honors teammates and opposition alike. So contact Shinny today, and find out for yourself why you’re never too old for rec league hockey.
Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.