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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Seniors rewrite the rules of ice hockey

Feb 23, 2024 11:32AM ● By Tabatha Stewart

If you visit the River City Sportplex around noon on Tuesdays, you’ll witness a spirited spectacle of hockey in action, with players speeding down the ice, the sounds of skates scraping and hockey sticks colliding as they fiercely compete for a chance to score.  

What’s remarkable about these players is their age—many are in their 60s and 70s. The Tuesday drop-in games welcome anyone over 45, drawing players of all skill levels. 

Despite hockey’s reputation for being physical and even dangerous, players in this group say it’s an opportunity for them to exercise, hone their skills and make friends.

“Hockey is a sport you can play well into your 70s,” said rink manager Jon Larson, who is 65 and participates in the games himself. “It’s a low-impact sport in that’s not hard on your knees.”


While many boast years of experience on the ice, such expertise is by no means a prerequisite for participating. 

Leroy Reeder, 72, picked up hockey in 2018. His only previous experience was limited to his youth, when he played on frozen lakes in his hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. 

Reeder acknowledged that the potential for injury while playing does cross his mind, but the thrill of competing outweigh any apprehensions. Plus, he mitigates risk by wearing extra padding.

“I haven’t had any serious injuries since I started playing,” said Reeder.

According to Craig Nichols, 71, safety surrounding the sport has improved since he was a kid.

“I broke my nose twice playing hockey when I was young,” he said. “The equipment now is so much better. The helmets we wore as kids were almost like not wearing a helmet, and there was no face protection whatsoever.”

Jay Krabacher was 57 when he took up the sport, playing at the complex previously known as The Glacier. 

“We don’t have checking, so it’s less dangerous than it could be,” said Krabacher, 75, referring to the aggressive physical contact used in an attempt to separate another player from the puck. “I get knocked down two or three times a game, inadvertently. Sometimes we’ll have a fake fight, throw our gloves down and act like kids, but it’s all in good fun.”


While some players participate in the rink’s leagues, in the pick-up games, there are no referees, nobody keeps score and advanced players enjoy helping new players learn the game.

Cassidy Palmer, 44, joined a ladies-only league when she started playing hockey nearly a year ago, and only recently started attending the Tuesday games to fill in as goalie.

“It’s nice to get an extra practice in,” said Palmer, who had no prior hockey experience but grew up figure skating. “My growth has really accelerated because there’s a lot of super good skaters from all the different leagues.” 

Krabacher, who also plays goalie, selected this position because goalies play for free, given the scarcity of players willing to take on the position. 

“For my first whole season as a goalie, I had the pads on the wrong legs,” said Krabacher. 

He added that all the players look out for each other. Even though it’s a competition, the more experienced players are patient with the new players, giving them plenty of room to practice their skills.

Teams are determined when players arrive and don either a light- or dark-colored jersey to signify their team. Halfway through the game, the players switch sides.

“It’s fun because those who have been frustrated by us—the goalies—are now shooting on us,” said Krabacher. “It mixes things up a little, and we’re always gracious about giving each other praise or recognition.”  


Players from both near and far gather at the rink located at 2515 Riverside Pkwy in Grand Junction for ice skating, curling and hockey. 

Nichols makes the weekly drive from Montrose to join the games. He played through high school in Colorado Springs but stopped playing for 18 years before returning to the ice.

“I ran into some guys in an over-50 group, and I played in a group called ‘Sticks and Pucks.’ That’s when you just take a stick and a puck and get on the ice,” he said. 

Nichols was instrumental in getting the 45+ games started after speaking with Larson about a year ago. He said the first couple of months were sparsely attended, but word spread and more players started to show up. 

“We really have a lot of fun,” said Nichols. “It’s not just good exercise, but everyone helps each other and we all get the chance to work on our skills.”

When Army veteran Michael Roder, 65, retired from teaching and was looking to move away from Las Vegas, he told his wife, “Wherever we end up, make sure they have a VA hospital and a hockey rink. That’s all I ask!” 

Games commence at 11:50 a.m. on Tuesdays. The games now draw an average of 20-30 players, with Larson providing food and drinks for the players on the last Tuesday of each month. 

Krabacher encourages anyone interested in trying the sport to give it a try, regardless of their age or ability. 

Participants have the option to purchase a punch card or pay $18 for each drop-in game. For additional information, email [email protected] or call 970-242-7465. 

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