Minnesota senior hockey players, ages 64-84, hit the rink together twice a week

A group of senior hockey players in the south metro is proving that "age is just a number." Even though they are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, they are showing no signs of slowing down.

Sometimes in the state of hockey playing the sport is more of a state of mind. Twice a week, a group of friends slap on their skates for some pickup hockey at the Bloomington Ice Garden.

"We're like mite players. No one remembers the score about ten minutes after the game’s over, so you are just out here having fun, getting a workout," senior hockey player Gordie Roberts said.

On this day, its light jerseys versus darks. But under their helmets, there's a lot of grey, which proves getting old isn't quite so black or white.

At 84, Jim Westby is the oldest player in the group and started as a spinoff of an adult hockey team nearly 20 years ago.

"It's in your blood so you just want to keep playing as long as you can," Westby said.

In 1955, he scored one of the most famous goals in state high school hockey tournament history, a game winner in the 11th overtime of the quarterfinals between Minneapolis South and Thief River Falls. Now more than six decades later, he is still playing the game he has loved for most of his life.

"Everybody feels the same way about keeping in shape and keeping active," Westby said. "The big thing is it’s a great group of guys who love to be together, who can talk and share stories."

On the flipside, Gordie Roberts is 64 and the youngest to take the ice. He played for the North Stars and Pittsburg Penguins where he won two Stanley Cups.

"I think hockey can be a life sport," Roberts said. "The whole point is who wants to act like you are 83 years old."

But he says hockey isn't just for the young. it can also be for the young at heart.

"I used to be competitive on the ice sometimes. I've learned to dial it down," Roberts chuckled. "Just having fun and moving the puck, and trying to set guys up a little bit. I play more to their level, which they appreciate it and so do I." 

Even though the group includes former college, national team and professional hockey players as well as Olympians, there is no checking because of their advanced age, and the action is a little slower than it was in their younger years.

"We're all a bunch of kids playing this game," Jerry Melnychuck said. "And we are doing it at age 60, 70, 80 years old. Isn't that incredible?"

Melnychuck is 83 and used to play for the "Golden Gophers." But he says getting older is no reason for him to spend his "golden years" in the penalty box.

"Nobody celebrates getting old. So if we are going to get old, we may as well do things we love," Melnychuck said.

At the end of the day, there's no winning an ongoing faceoff against father time.

"We have players with two new knees. We have players with new shoulder replacements. We have guys with double bypasses and stints. We have guys who have all kinds of things that have happened to them, and they are still playing today with this group," Melnychuck said.

But these hockey players will try to keep him on ice for as long as they can.

"One day when I'm 80 and there are some guys in their 60s and maybe played pro hockey for as long as I did for 20 years, and he's setting me up, I'm going to make sure I get him a beer afterwards," Roberts laughed.

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