The mind is willing, so the body doesn’t have much choice.

The mind is willing, so the body doesn’t have much choice.

Mike Duggan and his hockey buddies were putting on their gear one recent morning when their banter turned, as it often does, to the subject of joint replacement surgery.

Duggan, 74, the proud owner of an artificial hip, marveled at the sheer number of titanium body parts in the locker room. He pointed at Mitch Boriskin, who was swinging on a pair of roller skates along the opposite wall.

“I don’t think there’s an original part of you,” Duggan said.

Boriskin, 70, smiled. “Two fake knees, one spinal cord stimulator, 25 surgeries,” he began, as if reciting from sheet music.

“And a lobotomy,” Duggan interrupted, as laughter echoed through the room.

All that titanium, at least, was being put to good use. His team, Oregon Old Growth, joined dozens of others from across North America to compete this month in the Snoopy Senior Hockey Tournament in Santa Rosa, Calif., about 60 miles north of San Francisco.

The tournament has become a summer ritual for hundreds of recreational players – all between the ages of 40 and 90 – who gather each year at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, where Charles M. Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic and hockey fanatic, founded the event in 1975.

By this point, everyone knows what to expect: the skating is slow, the jokes go by fast, and the laughs flow as freely as the beer.

“If you like drying ink, you’ll be fascinated,” said Larry Meredith, 82, captain of the Berkeley Bears, a team in the tournament’s 70-plus division.

Playing sports can feel like a young man’s game. Maybe you compete during high school, maybe you find a regular game or beer league after college. But eventually, families, jobs, and various other encumbrances of adult life conspire to push him away.

These senior skaters, however, represent a generation that has increasingly gone back in that timeline. They understand how fitness and camaraderie can be beneficial for the body and mind. They stick to the games they love, even when their bodies beg them to reconsider.

“You don’t quit because you get older, you get older because you quit,” said Rich Haskell, 86, a player from New Port Richey, Florida. “A friend of mine died a few years ago. He played hockey in the morning, died at night. You can’t do better than that.”

The tournament has the feel of a week-and-a-half summer camp. Camper vans and RVs crowd the arena parking lot, where players drink beer, grill meat and socialize between games.

This year’s team names – California Antiques, Michigan Oldtimers, Seattle Seniles and Colorado Fading Stars, to name a few – agreed with the players’ advanced age and developed sense of humor.

“We used to be just the Colorado Stars,” said Rich Maslow, 74, the team’s goalkeeper. “But then we turned 70.”

Maslow and his teammates were scheduled to play that day at 6:30 am, the first hour, which meant they would have to assemble before sunrise.

“We all have to get up at 5:30 to pee anyway so we can play hockey,” said Craig Kocian, 78, of Arvada, Colo., as they dressed for the game.

Kocian has described himself as having “adult hockey syndrome”. But many other participants started playing the game as children and let the game play out for decades of their lives.

Among them was Terry Harper, 83, who played 19 seasons as an NHL defenseman. When he retired, he threw away his equipment, he said, and for the next 10 years he stayed away from the ice. But in 1992, a neighbor persuaded him to come to Santa Rosa, and Harper, who grew up playing in his backyard in Saskatchewan, felt some long-dormant pleasure center reactivate in his brain.

“I came out here and had a great time playing hockey,” said Harper, who, it should be noted, won five Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. “There was no pressure, no travel. I found hockey to be fun.”

Harper, playing for the Bears, took his time on the ice. Changing directions, for example, required a few more taps than before. But his handling and anticipation betrayed his expertise, and he smiled throughout the game, even after getting punched in the face.

“I got a stick on the chin!” Harper squealed gleefully as she skated over to the bench, sticking her tongue out to check for blood.

Harper and the other players said hockey just made them feel good. It gave them a method and a reason to avoid the natural effects of aging.

And gliding on skates, they could really generate some speed.

“If we tried to run away, we wouldn’t go anywhere,” Maslow said.

But the players also hinted at something less tangible, some swirl of individuality, ritualism and sensory memory, that week after week drew them back to the ice.

“It’s part of who I am, and that feeling is really powerful,” Meredith said of playing hockey. “Maybe that’s why I put up with it, because it reminds me of going to a rink, those smells you only find at an indoor ice rink, those hockey smells.”

Schulz was the same way. He ate breakfast and lunch at the rink, which he had built and opened in 1969. Spending most of his days working at the drawing board, he viewed his Tuesday night games as a kind of spiritual salve.

“He used to say, ‘It’s the only thing that gives me pleasure,’” said Jean Schulz, his widow.

He played until he died at the age of 77 in 2000. Many players said they wanted to do the same.

But if the specter of injury and bodily impermanence looms over the tournament, the older players neutralize it with dark humor.

Bob Carolan, 82, a retired pulmonologist from Eugene, Ore., recalled an incident about 15 years ago in which he resuscitated a player on ice who was having a heart attack.

“Best move I ever made on Snoopy,” said Carolan, who encountered the same man at a tournament 10 years later. “He had an implantable defibrillator, but he was still playing.”

After the morning game, the Fading Stars got off the ice and took off their gear. A box of Coors Light came out. It was 7:40 am. Upon noticing the brewery’s logo on the team’s shirts, a visitor asked if it was a sponsor.

“The only sponsorship we’re looking for is Viagra,” said Murray Platt, 68, of Denver.

Also caught a cold was Dave McCay, 72, of Denver, who scored four goals in the team’s opener, sprained his ankle in the second and came in for the third with his cleats.

That leg had given him trouble before – he showed a photo showing 12 screws, a steel rod and a plate – and his wife had already begun to gently question his priorities. But slowing down didn’t cross his mind.

“I’m convinced it gives you a better quality of life,” McCay said, leaning on a pair of crutches, “even if you have to limp a little bit.”

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