A ‘Hockey’ League of Their Own

Gordie Howe (aka Mr. Hockey) was the oldest person to ever play in the NHL, retiring at the ripe age of 52, proving to the world that even in the demanding sport that is ice hockey, age is but a number.

It is well-known that hockey is a life-long sport that can be played long after high school and college, which is exactly why the Bozeman Amateur Hockey Association (BAHA) strives to provide programs for players of every age and ability.

For the first time ever, BAHA has introduced an age specific league for adults - The Veterans of Hockey Wars (VHW), for men and women, ages 40 years and older.

“The thought of having an age specific league has been in the works for many years,” said Hockey Director Dave Weaver. “Bringing together players of similar ability and age makes for a fun experience for everyone – both on and off the ice.”

Christopher Gray, one of the veterans behind the initial launch of the VHW league, is a long-time Bozeman hockey player whose background stems from playing on the frozen ponds during winter. Gray played hockey in Bozeman since 1995 when the Bogert Pavilion was still home to BAHA.

Gray retired four years ago from playing in the Haynes Hockey League (HHL) - Bozeman’s premier adult league.

“I poked, prodded and begged for a 40 and over league for years,” said Gray. “I was ready to hang up my skates for good, until the VHW league finally debuted this November.”

“For the first season, we decided it was best to have it as an elective - 10 games spread throughout the season - so that HHL players could remain on their regular season teams, while still getting to play games in the Over 40 league,” said Weaver.

A third of the players who make up the VHW league hadn’t played in the HHL the season prior and probably wouldn’t have played this season if not for the over 40 option. The top aspects of this league are: the affordability, games played only twice a month, and that it’s an older crowd… but not too old.

The initial expectation was that we would attract about 60 players - enough for four teams - through internal marketing and reaching out individually to our ‘hockey retirees.’ We now have 90 players participatingon six teams. Clearly there was a demand for this league.

The VHW league is comparative to the intermediate IVY League in the HHL, in regards to skill and intensity. There is nothing slow about these games. Don’t be fooled by the player using a walker to get from the locker room to the bench; he’s the fastest one on the ice.

“There are a few guys on the ice that are newer to the game and some who have been playing forever, but for the most part the teams are very even. It’s definitely less intimidating to go up against guys your own age, no matter the skill. All participants are under the same impression that no one wants to go home with a broken hip,” Gray said.

Gray’s teammate, Kenneth Younger, started playing pick-up hockey at Bogert Park during his Christmas break nearly 23 years ago when he got involved with BAHA.

“I was 50 years old at the time and before that, I had only ever played the occasional pond hockey with a stick I purchased at a hardware store and the skates I had in grade school,” said Younger.

Younger, now 73, plays in both the Division 3 League, our Novice Division, and the VHW League.

“I thought our first couple of games so far this season were great – competitive but gentlemanly and of course the locker room chatter after the game was upbeat,” said Younger. “I love playing on my D3 team, but it’s also nice to play in a league where your teammates and opponents are at least within 20 years your junior.”

In the future, we see this league expanding in both the number of games each team plays and the number of participants.
“I think this league will be a great success as everyone will get old and slow and want to play with people who are the same,” said Gray.

In addition to the first over-forty league, BAHA will be premiering its very first Women’s Weasel League this January. We have been listening to our hockey patrons and it has become evident that an all-women’s league is long overdue.

While hockey is still a male-dominated sport, it is becoming more popular with women and girls. BAHA currently has over 100 women playing in our 5-league co-ed adult program, and over 70 girls playing in the youth hockey program.

Women’s hockey has grown immensely over the years. The vast majority of the women currently playing in the HHL didn’t have the option to play where they were growing up due to inadequate ice facilities or no room on the boys’ team.

Not only do women have the option to play hockey, they will now have the option to play amongst and against other female hockey players.     

“Though hockey is fun as a co-ed sport, there is a general discrepancy in size between women and men,” said BAHA Operations Director Julie Keck. “Given equal skill levels, the size difference may or may not be an issue. However, novice skaters don’t always keep their heads up and likely can’t stop on a dime, potentially contributing to injury of a smaller player.”

For women who are new to hockey, matching up against men twice their size can be intimating. The goal of the Women’s Weasel League is to have fun in a safe environment and hopefully convince more women that they too can play hockey at any age or level.

The recent growth and additions of BAHA’s adult programs couldn’t have been facilitated without the expansion of the Ressler Motors Ice Rink in Haynes Pavilion. For that we would like to thank our sister organization, the Gallatin Ice Foundation. With two indoor sheets of ice in the heart of Bozeman, we are proud to provide the best possible ice recreation experience for the Gallatin Valley.

The Bozeman Amateur Hockey Association is a nonprofit service organization whose mission is to provide facilities and programs for the development of quality, affordable, and disciplined competitive and recreational hockey.

Please visit bozemanhockey.org for more information on hockey programs and to access the complete rink(s) schedule.     
Anna Lau is the Communications Director for the Bozeman Amateur Hockey Association. For More Information about BAHA and local hockey please contact: alau@bozemanhockey.org or 907-952-2282