Sitting in the dressing room of my Over-35 Team before a game on Sunday, I threw out a question to the boys, just to be a pain in the ass.
“”Do you want to know anything about the Over 55 Ontario Winter Games that we just won a Gold Medal at?” I inquired with a big grin on my face, already knowing what the answer would be.
“No… we don’t.” This was said with no hesitation whatsoever.
Never be a braggart, I tell my fifteen year old daughter. I still give advice to her because neither my wife nor my two oldest sons pay attention to a word I say. No one wants to listen to your ailments or your accomplishments, but this is one time….
When people ask me what I do in my retirement, I tell them that I play hockey. Every day, sometimes twice a day. “Just as much as a professional,” I’ll say. “The only difference is that no one will pay me.”
Two years ago in my first year of retirement I received an e-mail about something called the Ontario Winter Senior Games. I know… I had never heard of it either. It was to take place in Huntsville in about a month and hockey was included on the itinerary. The only requirement was to be in at least your fifty-fifth year. There were no further qualifications and no bottom was too low to be considered eligible for the competition.
Which was a good thing, because as the team from Ottawa, we qualified as the bottom-feeder. We scrambled around trying to find the best players, but no one knew much about the Games and interest was not high. Couldn’t take the time off work, some of the best players said. Too bad, said others… that’s the week my wife booked us for a winter holiday. We were left just happy to be able to fill out a roster, with the only requirement being that you could put on your skates by yourself. Three losses in a row, two goals scored in three games. I can’t remember how many we let in; it’s wonderful how our subconscious protects us from a lot of mental anguish.
“We’re going to have to go with better players next time around,” said Glen, who had put our lineup together. “There were a lot of ex-pros here; we just can’t compete with a house league, rinky-dink outfit.”
Indeed. Glen was a fireman who had taken early retirement when he told me he could no longer cope with often being the first arrival at accident scenes, but he had no problem whatsoever in telling most of our team that maybe in a few years time there would be a place for them on the Over-65 squad going to the Games. After the carnage was completed, there were three of us left. I believe in wartime it’s known as a ‘scorched-earth’ policy.
“I’ve got the best fifty-five year old centreman in Ottawa playing for us in the upcoming Games in Haliburton,” Glen informed me when I ran into him sometime in the summer. “He’s better than you are, Dave.”
But I’ll play second or even third fiddle if it means a winning team. How often have I watched documentaries on those great Team Canada hockey teams where the only sign in the room says, “Check your ego at the door.” If it’s good enough for Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux then it’s good enough for me. “I won’t be satisfied unless we come home with the gold this year,” Glen added.
Glen may have lost his stomach for using the jaws of life to pry bodies out of mangled vehicles, but he certainly did have the mental toughness to say no to the many aging not-so -gracefully wannabees who approached him pleading their case for a position on the roster. Too bad that the Senators’ Bryan Murray and the Edmonton Oilers’ Kevin Lowe have not followed Glen’s blueprint of building a hockey team from the goaltending and the defense on out. “Two goalies,” he said, “the old buggers can get complacent if they don’t have a little competition. You know goalies. You have to be a little weird to want to play that position anyway. And the best four defensemen for their age in Ottawa.”
I’ll spare you a play-by-play account of how the gold was won. Even an unabashed sports nut like myself starts turning pages quickly in a book when too many playing details are provided. After losing to the reigning champions from Brampton in a hard-fought first game, the playoff requirements were such that we could not afford to even lose a period in the rest of the schedule, which led us again up against Brampton in the final. The good guys prevailed, and we’ll be off in a year and a half for the National Championships taking place in… Brampton.
I’m looking at my medal as I wax nostalgic. It’ll be something they’ll have to bury me with, if it even lasts that long. Even now the ‘G’ is disappearing from the words ‘Gold Medallist’ ; so now it just reads ‘Old Medallist.’