The locker room rumbles with laughter and sometimes bawdy jokes as senior citizens get ready for hockey practice at The Gardens Ice House in Laurel, Md., taunting and poking fun at one another like childhood rivals. It’s all in the spirit of camaraderie, said Kevin McMahon, team facilitator for the Geri-Hatrics, a senior ice hockey team.
“Primarily, we provide a hockey venue that fosters competition, camaraderie and fun for recreational hockey players over 50 years old. We also support several charities including the Washington Ice Dogs, a member of the American Special Hockey Association which provides programs for developmentally challenged children and adults, as well as Hockey 4 Hope, (a program for inner city children in D.C. at Fort DuPont),” said McMahon, an active team player since 2007.
“The team name, created by Bill Wellington, team founder, is a play on words - “geriatric” and “hat trick” is when one player scores three goals in one game,” said McMahon.
The team competed in the National Senior Winter Olympics held in 2000 at Lake Placid. The 70-year-old category reached its pinnacle of success when it won Olympic gold during the NSG Sept. 2008 in Providence, RI.
The team motto, “You’re Never Too Old!” appears the moment the seasoned players hit the ice, with boisterous chatter and congratulatory pats on the back after completing an intricate, synchronized play. Even the team’s jersey’s is light-hearted: the playful logo displays a set of dentures biting down on a hockey stick.
Among the more than 100 veteran hockey team members, several played on college or club teams, organized leagues and semi-pro level teams. Many have more than 40 years of experience on the ice. One member stands out due to his speed and experienced play.
Alan Hangleben, a former Washington Capitals defenseman now on the Geri-Hatricks 60s team roster, generously loans his pro skills to the highly seasoned team.
“It’s great to play with these guys, because their attitudes are great and I enjoy the camaraderie,” said Hangleben. “I just assist the guys by getting them into position so they can score a goal, or give them a pass.”
When asked if he was the team ‘ringer,’ Hangleben humbly noted, “I’m just trying to give back to a game that was so good to me. And some of these guys have only been skating for about four or five years. Some didn’t even start until they were 60,” said Hangleben, also a Los Angeles Kings and Hartford Whalers, National Hockey League veteran.
Hangleben was reflective about the toll of injuries that have plagued his post-career health.
“I’ve had four knee operations and can’t run anymore. It’s also hard to walk or even go up and down stairs,” said Hangleben. “However, skating has been a good workout for me. There’s no impact or pounding on my knees like with running, because the skating is a fluid motion. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’d rather do this than play organized hockey. In organized hockey you run into too many of the wanna-bees with attitudes. In here, everyone is just having fun.”
David Sanbourin, 71, has played hockey since he was 30 years old.
“I’m from New England and the other guys I play with are from all over: D.C. New York, Sweden etc.,” said Sanbourin, who looks more like a member of the Rolling Stones with silver hair, tanned skin and an earring.
“We’ve all known each other for years and years. It’s like a fraternity here. It’s fun. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here.”
Steve Galeski, Geri-Hatrics co-director, is instrumental in helping to coordinate events during the year including the teams’ “Winterfest” and an annual tournament in March for 26 teams.
“This is an event associated with the Maryland Senior Olympics,” said Galeski. “We work with the staff of the ice rink, scheduling times for games, and we appreciate the encouragement and the support we receive from the Gardens Ice House and use of the facility. We also purchase uniforms, equipment and manage our 60s and 70s teams that travel to several senior hockey tournaments,” said Galeski.”The level of camaraderie with the Geri-Hatricks in some ways exceeds that of when I was on active duty. Clearly, we Geri-Hatricks are a band of aging ice warriors. I have been playing ice hockey since my early teens, have played in high school and while attending college.”
Galeski said that at least 40 percent of the Geri-Hatricks are veterans. “Our founder, Bill Wellington, flew planes during the Burma campaign in World War II,” said Galeski.
The team includes lawyers, bankers, businessmen and women, trades people, store owners, veterinarians, surgeons, physicians, dentists, an airline pilot and wounded warriors. Some have been wounded in combat, including four members wounded in the Global War on Terror, including Galeski, who served as a Navy surgeon.
“The Geri-Hatricks themselves is a loosely knit, nonprofit, charitable organization of likeminded, aging hockey warriors dedicated to playing hockey as long as we can and giving back to our local community,” said Galeski.
The team’s newest charity is a scholarship for disadvantaged children in the developmental youth programs at The Gardens Ice House.
“I’m 64 and when I’m playing hockey I feel like I’m 14. It’s a great game for all ages but especially at our age it allows us to continue playing the game we came to love as kids,” concluded Kevin McMahon. “We are just a bunch of 60-year-old kids having fun.”