For the third and final retro night of the 2021-22 BCHL season, the Chilliwack Chiefs are doing something different with the Timbits game.
Normally, a pack of little kids hit the ice (often literally) at the Chilliwack Coliseum, playing a five-minute game between the first and second periods. When the Chiefs host the Wenatchee Wild Monday night (Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.), one player alone will exceed the combined ages of all the players in a typical Timbits matchup.
Leo Valentine is 90 years old. He’s being joined by 11 others, and together, their combined age adds up to 932 years. Take away the baby of the group, 44-year-old goalie Bob Marion, and the average age of the remaining 11 is 81 years.
The group of skaters includes Valentine, Helmut Hooge (86), Klaus Dill (83), Mel Folkman (82), Brian Johnson (82), Al Dahlman (80), Ron Schaufert (79), Dennis Barry (79), Ken Dickie (77) and Frank Phillips (76) along with goalies Marion and Kerry Heathman (74).
The oldest guy on the ice won’t be playing because he’s injured, but 92-year-old Mike Ratushniak will be there to coach the crew.
“We see it as an exhibition to encourage kids to get into a sport that you can play for a long time,” said Valentine, a retired military man who started playing hockey 85 years ago and is still active with Chilliwack’s Flickers and Friends Hockey Club. “You get all parts of your body moving out there, and it takes discipline. The thrill of the game, the speed of it, it keeps you playing. You get attached to hockey and you’ve got exercise for life.”
Valentine hasn’t played much over the last two years because of COVID, but he’s stayed sharp shooting pucks in his driveway.
“I’m working hard to get in shape to do this thing we’re doing here,” he said, joking that there’s no chatter, only puffing when he’s on the ice. “I injured my shoulder not long ago, so I’ve been able to pass the puck but it’s difficult to shoot it. I have a couple little targets hanging off a bar. I put a puck down and I practice stickhandling with my head up, and I try to hit those targets.”
Valentine also likes to park himself in the stands at a local arena and watch youth hockey.
“They’re opening an amazing life to themselves and I love the enthusiasm,” he said. “I’m amazed too at how good the kids are today, with their lateral movement and the way they skate backwards. Did you know Rocket Richard couldn’t skate backwards at all?
“You watch the bantams and midgets play now, and they’re light years ahead of what my generation was doing.”
Valentine and his friends have dug out old Flickers jerseys for the occasion, and goaltender Heathman is getting into the retro night spirit by wearing throwback equipment.
“Bob (Marion) and I both have Cooper vintage goalie gear, including the old (Gerry Cheevers style) fibreglass mask,” Heathman said. “We both have pads that are probably from the 1950s or 1960s.”
Heathman said the guys are gung-ho about getting out there and showing you don’t have to be a “young fellow” to enjoy hockey.
“I don’t think any of us really feel that we’re the age that we are, and my personal philosphy as I get older is that I refuse to grow up,” he said. “We have some aches and pains, but playing hockey is something we all really enjoy doing and it’s a great way to stay active physically.”
“For some of us, like Leo, it’s become so much a part of our lives that it’s integral.”
— The Chiefs will be wearing their retro blue, red and white jerseys for the final time this season.
An online auction for those game-worn threads starts Saturday (Feb.5) and closes at 9 p.m. on Feb 12.
See chilliwackchiefs.net for more info.
— Before playing Wenatchee Monday, the Chiefs host Nanimo Friday (Feb. 4) and Victoria Saturday (Feb. 5) at the Coliseum.
Both are 7 p.m. starts.