LACONIA — As ponds and lakes begin to skim over with ice, young athletes might be tempted to root around in their closets to find the skates and sticks they'll need once ice hockey season begins. The sport isn't just for the young, though, as the young-at-heart are also lacing up and heading to the ice arena, where adult hockey leagues are already in full swing.
Ray Vigue, who organizes the Lakes Region Legends adult men's league at Laconia Ice Arena, said the league was started by Ken McKinnon more than a dozen years ago. McKinnon, the first Canadian recruited to play at UNH, graduated in 1962 and still holds the Wildcat record for goals scored in a game. Vigue said that McKinnon was passionate about hockey, and he clearly wasn't ready to hang up his skates after his collegiate career. He founded the Granite State Hockey League and played in several Concord area teams. McKinnon later started the Lakes Region Legends, a 35-and-older men's team.
"He deserves a lot of credit for getting us all together and getting it all started," said Vigue.
The Lakes Region Legends league fields ten teams of men, most in the 40 to 60 age range, with games three nights each week. There's also a men's league which meets on Friday nights at the ice arena, and a third adult league for the more competitive. For Vigue, who didn't start playing organized hockey until he was in his 40s, the more casual pace of the Legends league is the right fit.
"It's fun hockey, " he said. "There's not supposed to be any intentional contact. We keep it a very fun, easy-going league."
Vigue has a roster of 85 full-time players, who play 11-on-11 games. Some players are on more than one team. It's a popular pastime – he said there are men who want full-time action who sit on the waiting list for years. Fortunately, it's much easier to get a taste of the action, as he also has a substitute list, and he said there are a handful of substitutes required each week.
What's motivating so many to get back on the ice? Vigue said there's two forces at work. First, there's a pure love of a game.
"If you like playing the game, it's a great way at the end of your career," he said. Then there's the opportunity for the type of camaraderie available from team sports.
"The locker room, male bonding thing," he said.
Local women have gotten into the game, too. The Lakes Region Women's Hockey Club was formed in 1993 by Kathy Gardiner, Lianne Lahrette, Betsy Spencer and Paige Rooney, who set up the club for instruction and recreation. The players first convened at the open-air rink at New Hampton School, but have been at the Laconia Ice Arena since it was built in 1996. Today, the club is organized by Rooney, Lori Marsh and Sara Rosenbloom.
"We play every Tuesday night all winter long," said Rosenbloom. "There's no requirement to play. You don't have to have any experience. You just need to be 21 and have hockey equipment. Players in the Women's Club range in age from 20s to 60s, and with all levels of experience."
Rosenbloom said there have consistently been enough players to fill a 24-player roster, though there are a currently a few open spots.
"This year, we're actively trying to recruit players," she said.
"Women's hockey is different than men's hockey – it's more of a finesse game," Rosenbloom said. "Most of us are there because it's a lot of fun. It's fast-paced, you don't think about anything else while you're playing, and it's good exercise."
"It's a pretty accepting group. People aren't afraid to show up if you have some basic skating and hockey skills," Rosenbloom said. "People have a good time playing."
Interested in playing? Visit laconiaicearena.com and click on the "adult hockey" tab for more information.