Marsh Webster was the primary to arrive. He entered the locker room on the Skaneateles, New York, YMCA at eight:15 a.m., carrying his hockey tools in an Military duffel bag, his Warrior stick laced by way of the straps, his skates dangling from the tip of the stick.
“At my age, I want a little further time to prepare,” the middle mentioned, smiling.
In three days, Marsh would flip 95.
Seventy-six years after he noticed St. Louis beat the Athletics in Cooperstown, Cardinals fan John Anagnost returned to Doubleday Discipline to play alongside Corridor of Famers. “He reminded us why we love this recreation,” Tim McCarver says.
It is the remaining of us who want to catch our breath. When Marsh was born on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1923, in close by Syracuse, the Nationwide Hockey League was solely 5 years previous and completely Canadian. When he first skated on the ice close to his home, a hockey stick price $1.50 and the Zamboni was 60 years away from actuality.
As he slipped on a “CHIEFS” jersey that regarded similar to the one Paul Newman wore in “Slap Shot,” reminiscence served up the date of that cult basic: 1977, 41 years in the past. But the jersey regarded pretty much as good on Marsh because it did on Newman, who was a mere 52 on the time of launch.
The second participant to arrive for the Thursday morning scrimmage was defenseman Dave Van Slyke. “He wants a little further time, too,” Marsh mentioned. That is as a result of Van Slyke, 71, performs with prosthetic arms to exchange the originals he misplaced years in the past when he was electrocuted whereas working above the road for the utility firm.
Requested if he was any relation to Andy Van Slyke, the previous main league outfielder from upstate New Hartford, Dave mentioned, “He is a distant cousin, however I by no means met him. I performed ball, too — it runs within the household. My dad tried out as a catcher with the Yankees in 1932.”
“Powerful to beat out Invoice Dickey,” Marsh mentioned.
They had been soon joined, one after the other, by a cheerfully sturdy solid of characters: 87-year-old retired banker John Anagnost, 75-year-old former Syracuse Blazers proper wing and bar proprietor Brian Elwell, 69-year-old retired engineer Steve Phelps, 62-year-old TV weatherman Wayne Mahar, who’s one of the goalies.
The different netminder was preparing in a close by locker room. That will be Debbie Gardiner, a 59-year-old hospital lab technician, legal professional and mom of seven.
Meet the Gray Wolves, an over-, typically way-over-50 hockey membership that has found a frozen fountain of youth. The members, who characterize Central New York in additional methods than one, scrimmage twice a week out of Allyn Ice Area on this Finger Lakes city and play in tournaments in opposition to different senior groups from throughout the nation. On any given Tuesday or Thursday morning, you will see attorneys, lecturers, civil servants, a business airplane pilot, an orthopedic surgeon, a pastor who swears like a sailor, a restaurant proprietor, and — simply in case anybody tells too tall a story — a man who administers lie detector exams.
“I really like these guys,” says Elwell, who scored 37 targets for the 1969-70 Syracuse Blazers of the Japanese Hockey League, the identical league that impressed “Slap Shot.” “They play with as a lot coronary heart as the professionals, possibly much more. I believed I might by no means play once more, however right here I’m on my synthetic knees, having the time of my life.”
Again when the Gray Wolves had been first organized in 1998, senior hockey was in its infancy. Then they obtained an early wrist shot of publicity from an article within the December 21, 2000, Syracuse Herald-Journal, written by Bob Siuda and headlined, “Ice Age Revisited.” Within the piece, Siuda describes the locker room scene on the apply rink, which was then in Lysander, and quoted one participant kidding Marsh about his age, which was then simply 77: “His Social Safety quantity is 1.”
Since then, senior hockey has grown and grown. There at the moment are tournaments all around the nation, just like the one hosted by the Gray Wolves each spring. In final 12 months’s, their 18th annual, they hosted seven totally different organizations in three age classes (50-plus, 60-plus, 70-plus), together with the brilliantly named Geri-Hattricks from Landover, Maryland.
However it’s much less concerning the competitors and extra concerning the camaraderie. There is no bodychecking, no slap pictures, simply a imprecise concept of what the rating is. “I keep in mind the primary time I performed with the Gray Wolves,” says Anagnost, who joined the workforce on the flip of this century. “I obtained a little tough with Marsh within the nook, and he politely informed me, ‘We do not play like that right here.'”
All in all, 30 gamers confirmed up for this Thursday scrimmage. There was a wide selection of talent ranges, in addition to ages, however they made it work as they took their shifts with out hogging the puck or ice time. Watching them was 82-year-old Alastair Wickens, who had to hold up his Gray Wolves jersey for medical causes. When a customer commented on a no-look go Marsh had made, Wickens mentioned, “Oh, it’s best to have seen him when he was 80. He might fly. The different workforce wanted two guys to cowl him.”
Marsh leaves the bragging to different folks. “He’s reticent to discuss himself,” says Tom Webster, 71 and the oldest of his six youngsters. “However he is fairly wonderful. Nonetheless has that hockey sense. He is a widower, however he nonetheless has the household over for spaghetti dinner on Tuesday nights. I fear about him driving within the snow, however he is lived upstate his entire life. He is obtained his hockey video games, and his 7-year-old great-grandson A.J.’s video games to go to.”
Says Marsh, “Once I was A.J.’s age, we would play hockey on the ponds and cricks round Camillus. Typically we would flood a area and await it to freeze over. I performed hockey in highschool at Onondaga Valley Academy. Then the conflict got here, and I used to be drafted. We had been shipped to France however I by no means noticed fight. After D-Day, after I returned, I obtained my diploma and helped coach the workforce.”
He was adequate to play semipro for the Syracuse Stars, however that did not put meals on the desk so he grew to become a sheet-metal employee, married and raised a household (5 sons, one daughter). However aside from a transient time when he broke his leg, he is by no means stopped taking part in, be it in pick-up video games, the Electricians’ League, or the Snoopy Senior Match that cartoonist Charles Schulz used to maintain on his private rink in Santa Rosa, California. “Dad drove all the best way on the market when he was 79,” Tom says. “Thank God for rumble strips.”
“I by no means dreamed I might be taking part in this lengthy,” Marsh says.
As a result of the membership was internet hosting a 95th-birthday luncheon for Marsh after the scrimmage, there was a full complement of gamers — and tales. There was Van Slyke, who skates with the most effective of them and will get off pictures befitting defensemen with actual arms. There’s John Taylor, a 64-year-old chiropractic radiologist from Toronto who was as soon as given a stick signed by the 1962 Stanley Cup champion Maple Leafs (Frank Mahovlich, Johnny Bower, Dave Keon, the Tim Horton, et al.) for being essentially the most improved participant in his youth league. “I wasn’t the neatest participant, although,” Taylor says. “I sawed it down and used it to play road hockey.”
Elwell can be a transplant, from Lachine, Quebec. “Got here right here to play with the Blazers in ’69 on an harm project for what was supposed to be 30 days, and it was 50 years,” he says. “Whereas I used to be nonetheless taking part in, I made a decision to open a bar close to the rink known as ‘The Again Door.’ Opening night time, I performed a recreation, then went over to the bar. The crowd was so huge the doorway was blocked. I had to return door to get into my very own bar. Ran that for 18 years earlier than they tore it down for a car parking zone.”
The heartbeat of the membership is supplied by Steve Phelps, who retains the books, maintains the web site (“Welcome To Our Den”) and performs on the over-70 event workforce. “What an incredible group of folks,” he says. “Hockey binds us collectively, typically in uncommon methods. A pair of years in the past after we had been taking part in in Cicero, I used to be making an attempt to be part of the play and found myself heading proper towards D.D. Lynch, who performed at Onondaga Valley with Marsh. So I veered off and ended up clobbering Danny Siccio, our airline pilot. As we obtained up, he requested me, ‘What occurred there?’ I mentioned, ‘Nicely, it was both you or D.D.’ And he mentioned, ‘Good selection.'”
The participant most devoted to the Gray Wolves is Gardiner, whose oldest son is an Military Ranger. She grew up taking part in the sport in New Brunswick, married a Baptist minister, moved to Syracuse, raised her children after which found herself in a troublesome scenario. “Lengthy story quick, they wanted a goalie and I wanted a good friend, and I obtained 30 of them,” says Gardiner. “They inspired me to return to faculty, and I ended up getting a legislation diploma and a grasp’s in social work from Syracuse. The Gray Wolves modified my life for the higher. They even taught me how to dance.”
And dance they did towards the tip of the scrimmage. Marsh found himself with the puck on his stick in entrance of Mahar, who towers over him.
Not even Mahar, who does the climate for the NBC affiliate in Syracuse, might forecast what Marsh would do. “He put the puck two-thirds of the best way up the left-hand submit,” Mahar says. “I obtained my stick on it, nevertheless it was a actually good shot, a actually good purpose.
“Afterward, he requested me if I let him rating as a result of his birthday was developing, and I informed him what I am telling you. I would not let anyone rating on me, not even Marsh.”
And so Marsh skated again to the bench, smiling as gamers on either side celebrated his purpose. When the scrimmage lastly ended, Marsh was the final one off the ice.
After the gamers obtained dressed, all of them headed over to Mo’s Pit BBQ in close by Camillus, for Marsh’s birthday lunch. The restaurant is owned by Gray Wolf Kevin Morrissey, 59, who’s normally the most effective participant on the ice. Additionally in attendance had been previous family and friends members, together with Marsh’s two older (!) sisters. There have been treasured pictures and laminated articles, a huge sheet cake, an invocation, a sequence of toasts and the presentation of a Gray Wolves jersey with a C on the entrance and “WEBSTER 95 LEGEND” on the again.
Then, as soon as once more, Marsh found himself with the puck on his stick.
“I simply need to say one factor to you married gamers on the market,” he mentioned in closing. “The subsequent time, each time, you allow the home to go play hockey, please give your spouse a kiss, and inform her how a lot you respect the chance to play this nice recreation. And I would like you to know the way a lot I respect this.”
A purpose and an help. Not a unhealthy day for The Grayest Wolf.