The Sonoma County Winos, a senior hockey squad, are steady contenders at the annual Santa Rosa gathering of amateurs passionate for the game.
Players might not be as fast as in their youth, yet skill and smarts promise to make for clean games and happy fans at Snoopy's 38th Annual Senior World Hockey Tournament, here in Santa Rosa.
"You can see that the talent was there. Some of these teams will play a really smart game," said Kenny Martin, with the Winos. "Some of the oldest players are raising the bar for the rest of us."
More than 60 teams from 13 states and three Canadian Provinces converge on Redwood Empire Ice Arena beginning Friday for nine days of near nonstop hockey.
An added bonus — games are free.
With each team playing four games over more than a week, players and families reunite and take in wine country, the river region and coast. Wednesday's all-day barbecue is a favorite draw at the tournament.
"It's a great event. The town kind of rolls out the red carpet. Everyone is super friendly," said Howie Bloxam, captain of the Red Barn Ice Dogs out of Long Beach, where he owns a pet food company.
Both camaraderie and competitive play keep the brackets packed with teams.
"The word of mouth of the tournament and the experience of the competitiveness is spreading. There are some new teams filtering in," said Mike Kovanis, the ice arena's hockey director. "We have kind of a cult following."
Senior hockey means players ages 40 and older. The tournament has added several divisions in the 70s, reflecting the aging players.