Florida Old Timers Hockey Association secretary/treasurer Norm Dann is looking for a few good (older) men — and women — to come out in support of ice hockey in Wesley Chapel.
The Canadian-born Dann just turned 80 years old, and amazingly, he says 75 of those have been spent playing organized hockey. He also says he once had pro aspirations while playing in a juniors league for the Ontario Hockey Association, but says a back injury torpedoed his chances. As a teenager, he moved to Tampa in the 1950s, but never stopped playing hockey.
It’s easier to find venues these days for Dann, who lives in Wesley Chapel and is already taking part in some senior hockey programs already going at Florida Hospital Center Ice (FHCI).
The USA Hockey Adult Nationals Program has been at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon since 2004. Dann says in 2015, at its zenith, the program produced 50 teams of 50-over players, 12 teams of 60-over, eight teams of 65-over and six teams of 70-over.
There were even 24 ladies teams for ages 50-over. Yes, ladies. There is room for you in senior hockey leagues, too.
Meanwhile, FHCI hosts a myriad of hockey leagues for many different age groups, from beginners to ages 50-over, but Dann is pushing for an even older hockey division.
“It’s definitely something we could do,” says FHCI general manager Gordie Zimmerman. “Last year, we had a very successful adult nationals hockey tournament here.”
Finding the older skaters is the next goal. Dann says he meets seniors frequently at FHCI, many of them snowbirds who had no idea that there is an opportunity to play locally.
“I’ve met 12 guys just standing around and when I ask them where their gear is and they say, ‘Up home, up north,’” Dann says. “I go over there (FHCI) two or three times per week, just to see who’s there and to get on the ice. Most guys I talk to are interested, we just have to let people know that if they are interested, to contact us.”
The leagues and the membership are already strong in the Tampa area for older hockey players.
Currently, Dann, who credits a 125-over-65 blood pressure with a resting heart rate of 50 to the health benefits of playing hockey, skates at Clearwater Ice Arena in Largo, and his bonds run deep there.
He says the camaraderie and warmth in a hockey locker room is like no other, and that spirit is what makes it difficult to start a league in Wesley Chapel.
“There’s guys that would like to play here (Wesley Chapel) but they play in Brandon or Oldsmar and they’ve made friends there,” Dann says. “They don’t want to leave their leagues.”
But, Dann is hoping to create those same bonds here in Wesley Chapel.
“It’s a beautiful facility here, everything anyone could want,” Dann said. “They have a studio, a half rink (aka “minipad”), weight rooms and off-ice facilities. It’s so new you can still smell the paint.”
Dann and his teammates don’t bang each other around like they might have in their youth. In fact, checking and other overly physical contact is not allowed.
“It becomes more of a finesse game, “ Dann says. “All these guys have great stick handling.”
Appreciation for the sport over decades isn’t lost on Zimmerman, who also grew up playing hockey in Canada before moving south.
“I’ve been playing since I was three and I’m 52 now,” Zimmerman says. “I enjoy it as much now as I did back then. You can play until you’re someone like Norm’s (Dann) age and still enjoy it.”
Anyone interested in joining a senior hockey league at FHCI can reach Norm Dann at Florida Old Timers’ Hockey Association, PO Box 7218, Wesley Chapel, FL 33543-0103. Or, call (813) 973-3654 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.