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Annual senior hockey tournament in Santa Rosa has wide draw

The Arizona Desert Storm's Greg Steele climbs over the boards while rotating out of his game, during Snoopy's Senior World Hockey Tournament at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in Santa Rosa on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

LORI A. CARTER,

Beer cans in hand at 9:30 a.m., an Alaskan team of ice hockey players on Friday celebrated their silver-medal-winning performance in Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament in Santa Rosa.

The Alaska 49ers, a team whose members are age 65 and above — including elder statesman Jimmy Reese, 79 — won two of their three games and were leaving town happy. The tournament, free to watch, continues through midday Sunday.

For 42 years, dozens of hockey teams with members age 40 or older have traveled to the Redwood Empire Ice Arena from across North America and around the globe to participate in the annual summer tournament.

The 16-member 49ers come from Anchorage, Wasilla, Canada, Minnesota and even one from Petaluma.

Their team philosophy is thus: Come for the hockey. Stay for the wine, and beer, and weather, and golf.

In its many iterations, the team has played in the tournament for more than 20 years. It started when the team qualified for the 35-and-over division.

“We love coming here,” said Dick Owens of Anchorage, by way of Minnesota. “It’s certainly different than Alaska, nice weather. We just like playing hockey.

“We probably play more golf than hockey. It’s the perfect guys’ trip, hockey and golf.”

But it’s not just for the guys. Their crew included five wives and a daughter.

“The hockey is an excuse to come and make a holiday out of it,” said Alvin Anderson of Slave Lake, Alberta, Canada.

Anderson hooked up with the 49ers through playing baseball in Florida.

He was in a tournament there three years ago and his wife, Debbie, was talking with the other spouses.

“I was telling the girls Alvin would rather play hockey than ball,” she said. “And they told me about the Snoopy tournament in California. I found it online and entered his name.”

“I said, ‘Let’s go,’” her husband said.

“And he wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Debbie Anderson said.

Pete Toft of Petaluma similarly hooked up with the Alaskans last year. As the tournament wound down for them Friday, he was looking forward to connecting with them again next year.

Team “hockey mom” Diana Cartier and her husband Russ are the organizers — with Diana setting up the hotels and meals, and Russ playing and arranging winery tours with Simi in Healdsburg, where he has a family connection.

Russ joked that the fun-loving, sometimes-rowdy squad needs the wrangling: “You have to treat us just like a bunch of kids.”

Anchorage resident Wayne Dyok estimated that each team member spends $1,000 during their 8- to 10-day visit to Sonoma County in food, hotels and entertainment.

“We came down a day early so we could golf and we stay an extra day to golf,” said Jerry Dewhurst, also of Anchorage. “We send case and cases of wine home.”

Reese, enjoying a last beer before heading to the airport to fly home to Wasilla, scored three goals and added an assist for the 49ers — proving age is no indication of ability in this senior tournament.

At 79, Reese, a truck driver by trade, remains in great shape, so much so that his teammates rallied in a chorus of “take your shirt off!” when a visitor joined their group in the parking lot Friday morning.

“I’m fairly fit,” he acknowledged, declining to show off his pecs.

The hockey tournament began in 1975, two years after “Peanuts” comic strip creator Charles M. Schulz began taking his Diamond Icers team from Santa Rosa to the Senior Olympics tournament in Burbank.

The only ice rink in Santa Rosa had closed a few years before that and Schulz decided to build a community rink to fill the void.

He eventually took over the senior tournament and moved it north to Sonoma County.

Schulz, himself a fierce hockey competitor, played every year until 1999, the year before his death.

The tournament took a year off in 2001, but family members restarted it and it has continued to flourish.

The more than five dozen teams participating will have played 105 total games, from last Saturday through Sunday.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.