A week in Wine Country to play hockey has drawn Jim Wyse to Santa Rosa from British Columbia the past 37 years.
Making his first Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament is Kevin Avery, who grew up playing the game in Connecticut and now lives in Louisiana.
What these ageless players share is a passion for competition and appreciation for camaraderie on and off the ice.
“The hockey is fun. It’s great to see the old guys come back. They love it,” Wyse said.
What impressed Avery, who makes several senior tournaments each year, is the hospitality as well as the level of play.
“The weather, the people, the food, exceeded my expectations,” Avery said.
Sharing those sentiments are a near record number of players and families converging on the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, in Santa Rosa, for 10 days of nonstop hockey action.
The senior hockey tournament — in its 39th year — has 68 teams playing more than a hundred games through Sunday.
“We’re full. This just happened to be a very high demand year,” said Mike Kovanis, the ice arena’s hockey director. “But it’s a good problem to have.”
Teams come from all corners of North America, representing 14 states and three Canadian Provinces.
Players range in age from 40 to 70 and older. Teams are placed in divisions based on age and skill and are guaranteed three games. There are medal ceremonies for division winners.
Monday’s action included Wyse’s squad, the West Vancouver Silver Bullets, facing the Vancouver Schooners in the 70A division.
Games are typically close with players relying on skills and smarts more than speed and strength.
“We’ve had really good divisions. The games can be pretty tight,” Wyse said. “When the games are on it’s serious.”
To be sure the competition is keen. Players encourage teammates to pursue the puck, challenge passes, stand up opponents and keep up the pressure even as they tire from a shift on the ice. No lead is safe.
“The games are a lot of fun,” Avery said. “It’s always a good time regardless of how you do.”
Picked up by the New Jersey Roadrunners for the tournament, Avery quickly bonded with teammates from six states and Canada. Losing all three games did not matter much to Avery, who appreciated the chance to play in a third senior hockey tournament this year.
After the Roadrunners game Monday, in the 40C division, Avery and wife Kristin were in the stands enjoying watching much older teams compete.
“It’s great to see people playing as long as they possibly can. Some of these guys skate better than some 20-year-olds,” he said. “That’s half the entertainment of the tournament.”
Hockey is the main but not the only draw of the tournament.
Families make vacations out of the trip to Santa Rosa.
Golf is what Wyse does when not lacing up his skates. Wyse planned to get in nine rounds at different courses during his week in Santa Rosa.
“We’re here to golf. The hockey fits in,” he said.
Wine tasting, hiking, and the redwoods were on the Avery’s itinerary.
“This is the place to be,” Kevin Avery said.
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or email@example.com.