For senior hockey players, game never gets old

The Geri-Hatricks, a hockey team for the senior set, prepares to host annual national tournament

March 17, 2011|By Jonathan Pitts, The Baltimore Sun

The left winger carried the puck up ice, swerved into the corner of the rink, and just as a defender slid helplessly toward him, slipped a pass in front of the goal.

A teammate, Joe Tarbox, gathered it in, fired a shot past the goaltender and raised his stick in celebration.

It was Monday morning at The Gardens Ice House, the usual friendly ice hockey scrimmage was under way, and the Red team had taken a 1-0 lead over the Gold.

"After this many years, you do have a sense of where your teammate is going to be," says Carl Sherman, the winger who made the pass. "Setting up [a teammate] for a goal never gets old."

Every hockey fan is familiar with the give-and-go play, and this version was worthy of an NHL highlight reel. Few have likely have seen one carried out by players like this.

Sherman, of Galesville, is 75. Tarbox, a Laurel resident who sports a white beard, is 77. Both are mainstays of the Geri-Hatricks, an 12-year-old hockey club for the senior-citizen set that is hosting a national tournament for players 50 and older at the Laurel rink this weekend.

More than 20 teams — from as far away as Minnesota (the Old-Timers), Massachusetts (the Rusty Blades) and Syracuse, N.Y. (the Gray Wolves) — have traveled to the area to vie for trophies in six divisions at the eighth annual Geri-Hatricks Tournament.

In some games at least, the competition will be fiercer than you might expect.

"It's going to be tough stopping those darned guys from Minnesota," says Dick Baker, 69, a Columbia resident and steady defenseman. "They have some former [U.S] Olympians. But we're strong, too. We have a chance to finish first or second."

He might be right. The organization has won its share of medals in dozens of tournaments over the years, and for regulars like Tarbox, Sherman and Baker, weekly pickup games like Monday's keep the playmaking as sharp as it's going to get, considering the ravages of time.

But even Baker admits that has never been the point.

"Winning and losing? These guys are too old to worry about that. We're in it for the fun," he says. "Once you start playing [hockey], you never really want to stop."

Hard-headed

The rink was empty and dimly lit an hour before the scrimmage, the air heavy and cold. And one player was already in uniform.

Mike Davis leaped onto the ice, skated a few practice laps, and started firing pucks against the boards to warm up.

"I get [extra] ice time this way," said Davis, a native New Englander whose red-and-white jersey bore a logo reading "The Tragically Hip" — a reference to the Canadian rock band and the fact he has had both hips replaced.

Everything about the Geri-Hatricks, it seems, fuses love of hockey with whimsy.

A banner in the rafters bears the club logo, a set of dentures chomping a hockey stick in half. The team name, brainchild of beloved founder Bill Wellington, blends the word "geriatric" with "hat trick," the hockey term for a player scoring three goals in a game.

Wellington, 89, had to quit playing two years ago. Three concussions forced his hand.

"At our age, you have to take that kind of injury seriously," Baker said. "Knowing Bill, I'm surprised [the head injuries] made much of a dent."

As the rink lights came up, players in red or gold came out to take warm-up laps.

Wellington's successor as club president, 75-year-old forward John Buchleitner of Severna Park, said one of the Geri-Hatricks' main draws is the way it attracts all kinds of people — and all levels of skaters.

The 30 or so on hand Monday, many from Anne Arundel County, were a case in point.

There was Chet Kulawiak of Millersville, 67, a Detroit native who didn't take up skating until relatively late in life — during his teens — then skipped several decades as he made a career for himself as a budget analyst.

He read about the Geri-Hatricks in the newspaper last year, signed up, and has been huffing and puffing with them ever since.

"A lot of guys our age just wrap it up and sit in front of the TV," he said, a bit of steam fogging his glasses. "Stay active if you really want to live."

There was rangy defenseman Jerry Spivak, a 60-something medical professor at Hopkins; the swift-footed Sherman, a maintenance man at a Galesville boatyard; towering right winger Marv Stocker, a silver-haired former GE sales manager who has overcome five bypass operations and a replaced knee; and Baker, a longtime salesman for a piano company who coached hockey in Columbia for decades.

Baker is a student of the game — enough so not to take it too seriously. He once broke both kneecaps on the ice, he said, and doctors told him never to play again.

One night, though, he had a few too many Budweisers and couldn't resist lacing up the skates. "I played that night," he said. "To my surprise, no major body parts fell off. Beer saved my career."

Rink rats

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