By Dave Maney
At 51, I’m an Old Man Goalie. I bring actual wrinkles to the crease.
Like any other old man, this gives me the freedom to say whatever is on my mind (about hockey, at least). With that as background, this is the text of an email I sent to my old timer rec hockey teammates recently as a prelude to our season-opening game:
I’ve been thinking about writing this down for a few years now and since our new rec hockey team seems to have some personality—and with luck even some chemistry—I finally did it.
As a guy who’s on the ice for the whole game, every game I play in, I get to see a lot of Old Man Hockey. As a result, I’ve developed several rules that I think can help you all as my Old Man Teammates. The main thrust is that there are several things that are different in Old Timer Rec Hockey from what we were taught as 10 year olds. To the extent we can appreciate them and exploit them, we can probably steal a few extra wins this year.
Rule No. 1: The game is played with the skills we have, not the skills we USED to have
Old Timer Rec Hockey players do things like leading the breaking wing as though he’s 95% as fast as Nathan McKinnon, whereas in reality the wing is not even 95% as fast as Nathan McKinnon’s grandma. They also shoot for where mama keeps the cookie jar, but instead almost always plunk the goalie where said goalie keeps the bacon double cheeseburgers. They think they’re stickhandling like Patrick Kane, when they’re actually stickhandling like they walk with a cane. Get the picture? No matter how good we used to be, we’re not as good any more—but Old Timer Rec Hockey players still attempt the kinds of plays they used to rock in 1984. What happens virtually every single time is… you reveal yourself to be the wheezing old man you are now rather than the swift, mulletted young god you used to be. My suggestion? Play within your current game. Make a few adaptations. All you gotta do is beat is the old guy across from you, not Drew frigging Doughty.
Rule No. 2: SHOOT more, fancy-pass less—ESPECIALLY on odd-man rushes
Most shots cause an assured level of chaos in Old Timer Rec Hockey. Old Man Goalies aren’t that good at controlling rebounds, and most can reliably be counted on to completely screw up one easy shot per game. We also don’t stand back up as fast as those GQ-model Swedes in the NHL do, and a lot of bad things can happen when an Old Man Goalie has fallen to the ice and can’t get up. The corollary to this “Goalie Futz-Up Theorem” is the “Pass Futz-Up Theorem,” which states that the likelihood of two Old Man Skaters successfully completing a beautiful Kunitz-to-Crosby-style one-timer asymptotically approaches zero as the importance of scoring on the play increases. (Stop and let that sink in for a moment. Get your 10th-grader to help you graph it.) Which is to say that if the game is on the line, shoot the frigging puck hard at the goalie’s far pad and everybody crash the net, because that boing-inducing full-speed glory goal you keep imagining ain’t ever gonna happen. Shoot the puck. Shoot the puck. Shoot the puck! (And crash the net for rebounds.)
Rule No. 3: It turns out there’s a thing called “delayed offsides,” so dump the puck back in if there’s a good chance you’re going to lose it. Because you probably will
The huge majority of my Old Man teammates over the years, when faced with a puck popping out of our offensive zone with our players still on the wrong side of the blueline, will try to stickhandle or hold onto the puck until everyone clears out of the zone. Which, for all but the most skilled Old Men, means they’re going to cough it up. I can count on the fingers of one hand the teammates I’ve had who seem to grasp that it’s okay to generate a delayed offside call by dumping the puck back in ?with our guys still in the offensive zone, when said teammate is being strongly challenged by the opposing team. Again, the opportunistic exploitation of chaos beats the potential execution of the pretty-pretty play in Old Timer Rec Hockey, every time.
Rule No. 4: In a no-checking Old Man Hockey league, checking isn’t allowed. But FORECHECKING still is.
Almost all Old Men Hockey players think that any game action with the word “checking” in it is completely forbidden. But it turns out that forechecking is, in fact, still allowed. In fact, it’s very, very effective. I’ve had a few teammates who terrorized our opponents by actually expending energy when we don’t possess the puck in the offensive zone. The confusion that opponents exhibit—they just can’t fathom why an Old Timer Rec Hockey Player would be skating without the puck—leads to turnover after turnover. And look—it’s already in their zone! “Check” it out!
Rule No. 5: No passes in front of the net when the opposing center is still in the slot
Over the past five years I would say the leading assist maker in goals against me has been whoever my right defenseman is. Old Man Hockey Right Defensemen seem to like to make passes to their imaginary friends, whom they apparently imagine to be breaking from the left wing to the center, ready to take the puck in stride. But most of the time, the opposing center standing in the slot recognizes that the imaginary friend is… well, imaginary, and therefore doesn’t feel bound to give the imaginary friend the space and respect my right defenseman thinks his imaginary friend deserves. And therefore, the opposing center intercepts the pass and is now standing all alone in the low slot with the puck. Being an Old Man Goalie, I am reaching for both water and smelling salts after the last series of saves, standing deep in the crease and quite powerless to stop a puck. Opposing Old Man Centers can sense this, and thereby score. If you MUST pass across the goalmouth, Old Man Right Defensemen, please look for Old Man Centers from the other team (they’re the guys wearing different colored jerseys from ours) before you do it.
Rule No. 6: Fat Old Men vs. Fat Old Goalies: The Screen
We Old Man Goalies are usually fatter than you Old Man Skaters. We have also been jumping up and down with 45 pounds of equipment strapped to us the entire game (it’s like having a double pot belly instead of just the one normal one). We do not want to do this jumping up and down thing any more times than we have to. We pretend we know how to go “paddle down,” or that we can do the butterfly push to the other side of the net when we’re down and vigilantly looking around your fat ass, but we don’t and we can’t. Suggestion: Make us go down. Make us lift 45 pounds as many times as you can. Get in our way. Use your fat against our fat: Block our view with yours and make us regret not having gotten rid of ours at the gym during the off season.
Rule No. 7: You never have to apologize for icing the puck
In the NHL a defensive zone face off is a scary thing, because there are so many set plays that can create scoring opportunities really quickly. In Old Timer Rec Hockey, the number of centers who can pull the draw back for a set play is… none. A defensive zone face off lets all us fat guys suck in air in an attempt to re-introduce oxygen into our bloodstreams. If you ice it, you don’t owe me an apology. I owe you a beer.
Rule No. 8: Drop passes work once in a great while in the NHL. This is not the NHL.
“Whoa, Mike, whoa! I’ve just crossed the blueline with the puck! I never cross the blueline with the puck. Whoa! I don’t have a very good shot, though… so I’d better look clever and drop this puck right here for you, Mike, because you shoot harder in warm-ups than I do and I don’t want to make a fool of myself. Here goes—leaving it right here for you Mike! Aw crap, Mike! You bobbled my beautiful drop pass! Dammit, Mike! Their defenseman used the extra second the puck was sitting there unattended to break up the play! Aw hell, Mike. Your shot was no better than mine!”
Just Say No to the Drop Pass. Get it through your head, Gretzky: It isn’t going to work. Even if your linemate gets it, he’s moving slow enough that Gump Worsley’s corpse could get in position to stop the shot. Instead, YOU shoot. SHOOT! Shoot. The. Puck. SHOOT THE PUCK! (And Mike, you crash and get the rebound.)
Rule No. 9: The play does not stop as soon as you allow a breakaway
Breakaways happen in Old Timer Rec Hockey—they just happen much more slowly. If I was Tukka Rask rather than Dave Maney, I’d have time to shave and brush my teeth before the guy arrived with the puck from center ice. Even as it is, there aren’t too many Old Man Shooters who strike breakaway fear into the heart of the Old Man Goalie. So it’s no tragedy most of the time when our team allows one. What happens a lot in Old Man Hockey, though, is that the burned Old Man Defenseman enters a mourning period after the opponent’s breakaway is sprung, hanging their head in motionless shame. It turns out I can actually stop a fair number of breakaway shooters. But when the opposing Old Man Forward is so alone that he gets his own rebound and scores (as happens all too often), it probably means the mourning period went on too long. No matter how badly you get burned on a breakaway, HUMP IT BACK for the clean-up effort!
Rule No. 10: Shut the frig up
Sometimes NHL players will rouse their teammates with a fiery encounter with the referee. What passion! What hockey knowledge! What a leader! In Old Man Hockey, a good rule of thumb is, Shut the Frig Up. Shut the frig up because you won’t win the argument. Shut the frig up because you aren’t riling us up. You are, however, making us roll our eyes. This is Old Timer Rec Hockey, and you are making an ass of yourself. You will get a penalty. You will make our Old Man Penalty Killers skate a butt-load for two minutes while you’re oiled up and flexing angrily in the penalty box. Maybe—just maybe—a series of bad calls should cause the Old Man Captain to have a quiet “hey, pal” conversation with the ref. But as for the rest of us, the needle only moves backward with displays of Old Man Histrionics.
OK, that’s all I’ve got. Now you can all write about goaltending.
Let’s have a great season! See you tonight!
Dave the Goalie
In addition to being the oldest goalie in the Southwest Denver Oldtimers Select Hockey League, Dave Maney is the Founder/CEO of Deke Digital LLC in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.