Brian Farley’s hockey career started when he was 5 years old. He began refereeing at the age of 12, learned how to drive the Zamboni, played competitively in his 20s and continues to play on a local team. But as a member of a mixed ages league, the 58-year-old Sacramento resident found himself playing with 18-year-olds.
“The youngest guy in our league a couple seasons ago was 18 or 19 years old and the oldest guy in the team was probably 62,” Farley said. “Us older guys are starting to realize we can’t keep up with the young kids anymore.”
Farley has been involved with Skatetown in Roseville for over 20 years, “since the day it broke ground.” And for several years, he’s asked employees at the skate rink to set up a senior league.
Now he’ll get his chance.
Skatetown’s new ice hockey league, exclusively for those 50 years or older, will start its inaugural season September 9 with four teams and 60 players. Team names include “Ice Rinkles,” “GeriHatTricks,” “Prune Juice” and the “Cardiac Kids.”
The business first tried to bring Farley’s request to fruition a couple years ago, but there wasn’t enough support, explained Brett Slavensky, the hockey director and pro shop manager at Skatetown, which has the only adult hockey league in the area.
Senior leagues are nothing new – there are similar leagues across North America.
In 1975, Peanuts cartoon creator Charles Schulz founded Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament exclusively for senior teams. The tournament in Santa Rosa has hosted teams from as far away as Europe and Japan.
So when Farley got the opportunity to play in the annual tournament in July, he returned “pumped up and excited” and decided to approach Slavensky again.
“I sent an email out, and that same day I had 30 or 40 responses saying, ‘Put me on the interested list,’ ” Slavensky said. “We went from there.”
The 60 players on the new over 50 league have hockey experience ranging from 2 to 52 years, according to a Skatetown press release. Aside from the age restriction, basic hockey and skating skills are the only requirement to play.
These players make up a diverse mix of backgrounds: there are firefighters, educators, senior managers, engineers, professors, business owners, CEOs and VPs. But they all have a shared love of hockey.
John Eadie is a biologist and professor at UC Davis. The 63-year-old was born in Canada and says Canadian citizenship, of course, “requires a love of hockey.”
Eadie describes himself as “too old to be playing hockey, but too dumb to know better.”
“It’s always been my passion,” he said. “I like that idea of providing as many venues as possible for people to continue pursuing their passions as long as they possibly can.”
Steve Berkson is also a Canadian-American who grew up playing hockey. As a kid, Berkson remembers using the city’s hose in the winter to convert a summertime tennis court into an ice rink.
“When I moved out to California, I realized, ‘Uh-oh, I’m never gonna play hockey again. There’s no ice here.’ And I realized the only way to get ice is to join a rink,” he said.
The 58-year-old settled on the town of Folsom because it fulfilled two key requirements: it had an airport within a 30-minute drive for work and it had a nearby ice rink and, he said, “I will not raise children that cannot ice skate and ski.”
Skatetown is unique, he said, because everybody knows everybody.
“When you play strangers, and somebody does something maybe by mistake — they hit you with a stick when they’re skating by — people get mad,” he said. “But at Skatetown, … you laugh things off and you know the other guys and the other teams. You’re gonna sit down with them and have beer and pretzels after the game. So it just makes for a very friendly, fun place to play.”
Skatetown’s Slavensky said about 200 players in the facilities’ adult league are 50 years or older; he projects that the senior league could grow from four to six or even eight teams next season.
Because many of the players entering the new senior league already play in adult leagues, some of them have known each other for a long time. Slavensky said, as a kid, Farley used to sharpen his skates and ref his games.
And many players have passed along their love of the game to their kids. Ken MacNeill, who coaches at Skatetown, stopped playing hockey for 37 years but picked it back up again when his kids expressed interest in the sport. His youngest son plays for a semi-professional team in Fresno.
When Berkson’s son came home from college for summer break, they played games in the same league.
It’s fun to play with a mixed age group, he said, but it would also be nice, on some nights, to play with guys closer in age “who realize how easy it is to get injured and how hard it is to recuperate when you’re over 40.”
“It’s a pleasure to go out and play with guys where all of us are in that category of wanting a fun game where no one gets injured and we’re all roughly the same pace because we’re a little older and a little slower,” Berkson said.
MacNeill, who also plays hockey in the adult league and serves as the team captain of the “GeriHatTricks,” said he’s excited to have fun with his friends in a more laid back environment.
He also mentioned the physical benefits of playing the sport. As a heavy equipment mechanic, MacNeill said he thought he was in pretty good shape until he started playing hockey.
“We’re not ready to sit on the couch all day and watch TV,” Farley said. “We want to stay active.”
And Farley has big plans for the future of the league.
“My hope for the league is to grow it to a regular night … with possibly six or eight teams,” he said. “And maybe put a team together and go to the Charles Schulz tournament or a tournament in Victoria, British Columbia or Florida or Boston.”
Other players also have their eye on Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament. Slavensky said playing in the tournament next year could be a very real possibility.
The senior league’s inaugural games will take place on September 9 at 8:45 a.m. and 10 a.m., and there is still time to sign up to play.
“If it turns out to be a balanced league with people going out and playing for fun and exercise rather than trying to make the NHL, I think that’ll be a measure of success,” Eadie said. “This is sort of the pilot season — the test run — and I think as more people hear about it and enjoy it, more people will engage.”