A mature approach to hockey

League: The Geri-Hat Tricks demonstrate that gray hairs and sharp skates are a good combination.

Howard At Play

March 07, 2004|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Tom Christy is retired after a long and successful career as an electrical engineer. This is the time in his life when Christy can do all the things that he couldn't during the busy years when he worked constantly.

For Christy, that means playing hockey on a regular basis.

Christy, 65, is part of a group of men who play in a few hockey leagues for those age 50 and older at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel. The over-50 group - called the Senior Division - plays Sunday nights, while the 60-and-older group - the Geri-Hat Tricks - have ice time twice a week, usually Tuesday and Thursday mornings. There are even players over 80 in that league, which also uses some Senior Division players to fill out the rosters.

More hockey senior citizens will be in town this weekend when the Gardens hosts the first Geri-Hat Tricks senior hockey tournament. There will be 14 teams in three age divisions from places including Minnesota, Virginia and New Jersey. They'll play from Friday through Sunday with a championship-style format.

Christy, a Howard County resident, said that most of these guys have one thing in common: a passion for hockey that just won't go away.

"It's more of an obsession than a hobby," Christy said with a chuckle. "It's just something that I just love to do. I guess [we're] people who are trying to skate away from old age."

The Senior Division and the Geri-Hat Tricks play no-contact hockey, meaning players - although they bump into each other from time to time - can't purposely check or hit each other.

Christy was a driving force in getting men's hockey started in Howard County in the 1970s and simply relishes putting his skates on, but is well aware of his limitations - and is glad there's now a league for older players.

"We got younger and younger players and I got older and older," Christy said. "There's two people you can't fool, and that's Father Time and Mother Nature."

Dick Baker, also a county resident, still plays the game at age 62. He still works, but hockey remains close to his heart.

Baker currently is on the organizing committee for the new tournament and hopes to make it bigger and better every year. He expects it to grow on a regular basis because the competition simply involves guys who love to play hockey.

Bill Wellington started the Geri-Hat Tricks in the Washington area about four years ago. He had an over-60 team that played early in the morning at Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Washington. Baker also had an over-50 team, and both groups landed at the Gardens Ice House, where the teams got much better ice time and a good price.

Baker said he was thrilled to be playing hockey again with guys his own age - and his own speed. Before this, he often was playing with men 20 years younger, and the game was frustrating him at times.

"It was kind of a rejuvenation of life for a lot of guys," Baker said. "To be able to skate with guys our own age was wonderful. All of a sudden you start scoring, all of a sudden you can skate around people; it was like the old days."

Tom Hendrix is the general manager and part-owner of the Gardens Ice House. He also plays hockey. He played at Bowling Green as a forward and still competes with the older guys and is one of the top offensive threats.

Hendrix said the group needed to start its own leagues because playing with younger guys was becoming much too difficult.

But this group of men who are over 50 and still skate around the ice on a regular basis don't try to pretend they're the Washington Capitals, the Detroit Red Wings or anyone else. They're just having some fun.

"These are guys that we have a good time with," Hendrix said. "We've enjoyed each other's company over the years. They just don't want it to stop. They love the sport."

Hendrix is hopeful that this new tournament will grow because it's just a bunch of older guys playing for nothing more than friendship and the love of the sport.

"The tournament will do nothing but grow," Hendrix said. "It's got all the mixture to make it grow. You know, we all lose our speed. But what we don't want to give up is the ability to sit with individuals you enjoy and share the experience."

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