With fresh ice at the Cominco Arena and the B.C. Seniors Games approaching faster than a rushing defenseman, area hockey players are sharpening their skates and skills in preparation for the big event.
At the Senior Games in Comox last year, only one West Kootenay 55+ hockey team limped in with 11 players but still managed to win bronze.
But this year, Trail will have three full squads dressed for three different divisions entering the Games.
As hosts, playing locally made it easier to get players involved this year, said organizer Mike Ramsey.
Players from Trail, Rossland, Fruitvale, Montrose, Castlegar and Nelson will suit up for the three West Kootenay teams and play at two arenas in Trail and Nelson.
Organizers Ramsey and Don Vockeroth of Rossland began recruiting players several months ago and were able to fill rosters for the 55+, 60+ and 65+ age groups.
Not enough veteran players could be found by the cutoff time to enter a 70+ age group, which 74-year-old Vockeroth is eligible, but he hopes to have one in place for future Seniors Games.
“The program now that exists is that we have some 70+ in the 65 age group and we’re going to graduate everybody up and then fill in the bottom, so as each year passes we’ll be able to top-up the odd team but also rebuild the bottom teams.”
While the organizers had difficulty attracting players at first, it didn’t take long for word to get around and the rosters soon filled up.
“It’s a great way to keep guys active and in the game,” said Ramsey.
The teams are now complete with 17 man rosters and each one backstopped by an experienced goalie; a commodity that gets increasingly more difficult to find as the men get older.
In the two older groups, the teams only have a single goalie each, says Vockeroth,
“If the goalie goes down . . . we’ll draw straws,” he added.
Vockeroth, an expert mountaineer, didn’t start playing hockey until he was almost 40.
While both men enjoy the exercise, they play more for the camaraderie and opportunity to participate in a team sport.
“It’s a great way of letting guys play and play in their age group because it’s a lot more fun with playing guys your own age,” added Ramsey.
“However, there is really a significant drop-off when guys get to 50.”
But with the popularity of the Games growing, older hockey players have an additional reason to keep playing.
Vockeroth says he likes the concept of the Games as it promotes the health and participation of the province’s seniors.
But volunteers are vital for any organization’s survival and promoting it is always a challenge.
“The continuity of the whole concept falls down if you don’t have key people staying with it year after year and keeping it running,” he said.
“The whole volunteerism thing has to be recognized and keep people interested.”
If men like Vockeroth and Ramsey stay involved, the West Kootenay hockey teams will be a force in this year’s games and for many down the road.
The West Kootenay teams will practice in Nelson next week before facing off on Aug. 17.
The 55+ and the 70+ age groups will be playing at the Cominco Arena at the Trail Memorial Centre while 60+ and 65+ skate at the Nelson and District Sports Complex.
The B.C. Seniors Games go in Trail, Nelson and Castlegar from Aug. 16-20.