Snoopy Over 70 Hockey and the New York Times

I joined the Oregon Old Growth senior ice hockey team from Eugene, Oregon to participate in the Over-70 division of the Snoopy tournament.  Three of our players were interviewed in the New York Times and Mike Duggan’s photo was on the cover.  Yes, that New York Times -More on that later.  A copy of the article is below.

Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz, had grown up ice skating through the cold Minnesota winters of his youth. Soon after moving to sunny Santa Rosa, California, he built the Snoopy ice rink in 1969 and, six years later, founded a senior hockey tournament. The Snoopy Senior Hockey Tournament attracted teams from all over the world: Finland, Japan, Austria, Australia, Norway, Sweden, and North America. Charles Schulz played in the annual tournament for almost 25 years until he passed away at age 78 in 2000.

This July, we played three hockey games, winning our first and losing the next two. Every game was close, and we all felt good about our play. We were in the "B" group, which turned out to be the top tier in the over-70 division. Fortunately, we did not have to play the team from Vancouver, B.C., who dominated their games.

Our final record at the Snoopy tournament was:

Fun 10 – Boredom 0

Before our first game, Mitch and I set up our campervans in the middle of the rink's parking lot, surrounded by a handful of RVs full of boisterous senior hockey players. We overlapped our awnings for shade and added a pop-up tent—Presto – the Old Growth compound – party central. Mike Duggan filled the cooler with a seemingly endless supply of Oakshire beers whenever he arrived at the compound with the boys from the Airbnb. Twenty camping chairs were haphazardly scattered between the vans awaiting thirsty hockey players for the post-game gathering. Got the picture?

The only issue all week was when two of the guys at the Airbnb selected the wrong soap for a dishwasher run, resulting in a wall of suds overflowing onto the innocent kitchen floor. In case no one believed the story, Bark Barclay caught part of the soap's removal in an iPhone video. Of course we believed the story!

Between games, there was plenty of time for wine tasting, trips to Point Reyes National Seashore, dinners at Russian River Brewing, and visiting friends from across the Bay Area.  There was plenty to do between games throughout Sonoma County, and there were always beers and laughter at the compound.

Now, what is this about the New York Times?

The week before the tournament, Bob Carolan mentioned that he got a text from a New York Times reporter who might want to interview us. One player suggested, "Let's pick him up at the airport!" Bob shook his head, thinking he should never have brought it up.

We didn't know for sure if the reporter would show up, let alone interview any of us. The RV across from our campervan had a team called "The New York Pies," and I thought I heard the New York Times, so I walked over and asked if they heard anything about a Times reporter coming to the tournament. They looked at me stoically and said:

 "Yeah, right; the New York Times is going to fly a reporter across the county to watch a bunch of old guys playing hockey." The laughter began to rise

"I'm sure they'll send a photographer to get some close-ups in the locker room" Laughter increasing

"It will be great – they'll interview all of us, and we'll end up in the Sunday New York Times."

"Good luck with that kid" All I could do was join in the laughter, shake a few hands, pat a few backs, and walk slowly back to the compound, feeling like a lost soul.

Then came Thursday morning, our last game, and sure enough, at 7:00 AM, a New York Times reporter was sitting between Mike Duggan and Bob Carolyn in our locker room, rapidly taking notes as the team told tales. Meanwhile, a woman photographer, Bryan Meltz, was snapping photos of the gang preparing for the game.

Andrew Keh, the sports reporter, had indeed flown out from New York City the previous day for a story about the Snoopy tournament. Andrew grew up just outside the city, went to Columbia, and became a New York Times journalist. He had previously lived in Berlin as an international correspondent reporting from over 25 countries. I am guessing this was his first senior hockey tournament.

Bryan had an easier time getting to Santa Rosa. She is a freelance photographer living in Healdsburg, just 15 miles north of the ice rink. Bryan and Andrew seemed to enjoy themselves among the older guys and did an outstanding job capturing the tournament's essence in their photos and writing. Thank you, Andrew and Bryan.

The following is a copy of the text of the article:

The Mind Is Willing, So the Body Doesn’t Have Much Choice

These men, many in their 80s, may have titanium hips and implantable defibrillators. But they plan to play hockey until they go to that big locker room in the sky.

Mike Duggan and his hockey buddies were strapping on their gear one recent morning when their banter hopscotched, as it frequently does, to the subject of joint replacement surgeries.

Duggan, 74, the proud owner of an artificial hip, marveled at the sheer number of titanium body parts in the locker room. He gestured toward Mitch Boriskin, who was wiggling into a pair of skates along the opposite wall.

“I don’t think there’s an original part on you,” Duggan said.

Boriskin, 70, smiled. “Two fake knees, a spinal cord stimulator, 25 surgeries,” he began, as if reciting a box score.

“And one lobotomy,” Duggan interjected, as laughter rippled across the room.

All that titanium, at least, was being put to good use. Their team, the Oregon Old Growth, had joined dozens of others from around North America to compete this month at the Snoopy Senior hockey tournament in Santa Rosa, Calif., about 60 miles north of San Francisco.

The tournament has become a summertime ritual for hundreds of recreational players — all of them between 40 and 90 years old — who gather each year at Redwood Empire Ice Arena, where Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip and a lifelong hockey fanatic, founded the event in 1975.

Terry Harper won five Stanley Cups in the N.H.L. He called the Senior Snoopy “the greatest time I’ve ever had in hockey, ever.”

By now, everyone knows what to expect: The skating is slow, the wisecracks whiz by fast and the laughter flows as freely as the beer.

“If you like paint drying, you will be riveted,” said Larry Meredith, 82, the captain of the Berkeley Bears, a team in the tournament’s 70-plus division.

Playing sports can feel like a young person’s game. Maybe you compete through high school, perhaps find a regular pickup game or beer league after college. But, eventually, families and jobs and the various other encumbrances of adult life conspire to pull you away.

These senior skaters, though, represent a generation that has increasingly pushed back on this timeline. They understand how fitness and camaraderie can be beneficial for both body and mind. They hold on dearly to the games they love, even as their bodies beg them to reconsider.

“You don’t quit because you get old, you get old because you quit,” said Rich Haskell, 86, a player from New Port Richey, Fla. “A friend of mine died a couple years ago. He played hockey in the morning, died at night. You can’t do it better than that.”

The tournament has the unbent feel of a week-and-a-half long summer camp. Camper vans and R.V.s crowd the arena parking lot, where players drink beer, grill meat and fraternize between games.

The squad names this year — California Antiques, Michigan Oldtimers, Seattle Seniles, and Colorado Fading Stars, to name a few — nodded at players’ advanced age and evolved sense of humor.

“We used to just be the Colorado Stars,” said Rich Maslow, 74, the team’s goalie. “But then we turned 70.”

Maslow and his teammates were scheduled to play that day at 6:30 a.m., the earliest slot, which meant they had to assemble before sunrise.

“We all have to get up at 5:30 to pee anyway, so we might as well play some hockey,” said Craig Kocian, 78, of Arvada, Colo., as they dressed for the game.

Kocian described himself as having “adult onset hockey syndrome.” But many other participants began playing when they were children and let the game weave itself through the decades of their lives.

Among them was Terry Harper, 83, who played in 19 seasons as a defenseman in the N.H.L. When he retired, he threw away his equipment, he said, and for the next 10 years stayed away from the ice. But in 1992, a neighbor coaxed him to Santa Rosa, and Harper, who grew up playing in his backyard in Saskatchewan, felt some long dormant pleasure center reactivate in his brain.

“I came here and had the greatest time I’ve had in hockey, ever,” said Harper, who, it must be noted, won five Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. “There wasn’t the pressure, the travel. I found out hockey is fun.”

Harper had thrown away his hockey equipment after he played his final N.H.L. game in the early 1980s.

Harper, playing for the Bears, took his time on the ice. Changing directions, for one thing, required a couple more beats than it once did. But his stickhandling and anticipation betrayed his expertise, and he was smiling throughout the game, even after getting whacked in the face. (Rumor: Bob Weir’s stick)

“I took a stick to my chin!” Harper shouted happily as he skated to the bench, sticking out his tongue to check for blood.

Harper and the other players said hockey simply made them feel good. It gave them a method and a reason to stave off the natural effects of aging.

And by gliding on skates, they could actually generate some speed.

“If we tried to run, we wouldn’t go anywhere,” Maslow said.

But the players also hinted at something less tangible, some swirl of selfhood and ritualism and sense memory, that week after week lured them back to the ice.

“It’s part of who I am, and that feeling is really powerful,” Meredith said about playing hockey. “Maybe that’s why I hang on, because it harkens back to going to a rink, smelling those smells that you can only find in an indoor ice rink, those hockey smells.”

Schulz was the same way. He ate breakfast and lunch at the rink, which he had built and opened in 1969. Spending most days grinding away at the drawing board, he saw his Tuesday night games as something of a spiritual salve.

“He used to say, ‘It’s the only thing that gives me pleasure,’ ” said Jean Schulz, his widow.

He played until he died at the age of 77 in 2000. Many players said they would like to do the same.

But if the specter of injury and bodily impermanence hovers over the tournament, the older players’ defuse it with dark humor.

Bob Carolan, 82, a retired pulmonologist from Eugene, Ore., recalled an incident about 15 years ago in which he resuscitated a player on the ice who was having a heart attack.

“The best play I ever made at Snoopy,” said Carolan, who ran into the same man at a tournament 10 years later. “He had an implantable defibrillator, but he was still playing.”

After their early morning game, the Fading Stars came off the ice and stripped away their gear. Out came a case of Coors Light. It was 7:40 a.m. Noticing the beer company’s logo on the team’s sweaters, a visitor asked if it was a sponsor.

“The only sponsorship we’re looking for is Viagra,” said Murray Platt, 68, of Denver.

Also grabbing a cold one was Dave McCay, 72, of Denver, who scored four goals in the team’s opening game, sprained an ankle in the second and arrived for the third in a walking boot.

That leg had given him trouble before — he held up a photo showing 12 screws, a steel rod and a plate in it — and his wife had already begun gently questioning his priorities. But slowing down has not crossed his mind.

“I’m convinced this gives you a better quality of life,” McCay said, leaning on a pair of crutches, “even if you have to limp around a little bit.”

A version of this article appears in print on July 24, 2023, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline:

Playing Hockey into Their 80s, With Laughter and Metal Hips.

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