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2018-02-21 / Featured / Front Page

A group of middle-aged men find an icy fountain of youth – chasing a puck

BY RICH GRISET
STAFF WRITER


A latecomer to the game of hockey, Dave Daniels first laced up his ice skates at the age of 37. The retired Chesterfield County Fire Department captain was one of many players over the age of 55 at last Thursday night's game. 
ASH DANIEL A latecomer to the game of hockey, Dave Daniels first laced up his ice skates at the age of 37. The retired Chesterfield County Fire Department captain was one of many players over the age of 55 at last Thursday night's game. ASH DANIEL Out on the ice, the years seem to peel away. Here, the aches and pains of life on land disappear, and even the oldest hockey player suddenly takes on the quiet grace of a figure skater between skirmishes for the puck. There are no officials to referee, no fans cheering them on. There is no scorekeeper. Just 40 men, a rubber puck, and a sport of speed and agility.

It’s Thursday night at the Richmond Ice Zone in Chesterfield, when these men begin playing their weekly pickup game at 10 p.m., after all the youngsters have cleared the ice. They are the Brewins, a crew of 35-and-older players engaged in the sport they love. About a quarter of them are over 55; the oldest is 66.


The Brewins take to the ice last Thursday. The 35-and-older players scrimmage against each other for fun every week. 
PHOTOS BY ASH DANIEL The Brewins take to the ice last Thursday. The 35-and-older players scrimmage against each other for fun every week. PHOTOS BY ASH DANIEL As America’s men’s and women’s hockey teams compete for the gold at the Olympics this week, we turn to our local players to see what brings them to the rink. Away from the spotlight and promise of medals, they play for the love of the game.

When Patrick deFur says hockey saved his life, he isn’t kidding.

In November 2012, somewhere between 75 and 95 percent of deFur’s heart was blocked, necessitating quadruple bypass surgery. According to deFur’s doctor, his life was saved by collateral blood flow, a result of regular exercise.

“It created [extra] blood,” says deFur, a self-employed accountant who lives in Henrico. “I attribute hockey to keeping me alive.”

From playing on the frozen swamp behind his house in Connecticut at the age of 7 to today, hockey has remained a constant in deFur’s life. He plays all positions but goalie, and has been with the Richmond Ice Zone since its hockey league formed in 1995.


John Lovell, a former professional hockey player, is Richmond Ice Zone's hockey director. He created the adult league in 1995. John Lovell, a former professional hockey player, is Richmond Ice Zone's hockey director. He created the adult league in 1995. “I’m playing now with guys who were 15, 11, when I started playing,” he says. “I love the sport. I love the guys. To me, this is the best night of the week.”

Hockey Night in Richmond – the coed adult league from which the Brewins draw their players – began in the mid-1990s with only 10 teams. Today, there are five divisions with 42 teams, playing at Richmond Ice Zone and SkateNation Plus in Henrico County.

For many players, the Thursday night game is the highlight of their week.

“They could care less about who wins and loses,” says John Lovell, who serves as hockey director of both rinks. He created the league and played in the 1990s with the Richmond Renegades, an East Coast Hockey League professional team. “They play for about an hour, hour and a half, and then they drink for four.”

Growing up on Long Island, Gary Sheehan played plenty of hockey, but hadn’t touched the ice in two decades when his sons became interested in the 1990s. He took up coaching, and hasn’t stopped playing since. In the league’s players, Sheehan sees a trend.

“You’ve got two kinds of people here: You’ve got all us Yankees, and you’ve got our kids and their friends,” says Sheehan, 65, who worked in the engineering department at Carmax before retiring. “It’s a community of people who appreciate each other for being out here.”

For the older guys in the group, Sheehan says it’s a way to stay active.

“There’s nothing else like it. I can still skate. I can’t run, I can’t jump, but I can still skate,” says Sheehan, who lived in Salisbury but moved to Dinwiddie County upon retirement. “I’m going to keep doing this as long as I can.”

Sheehan’s son Chris, 37, is also on the team. Chris began playing street hockey as a kid, but moved to ice hockey at 12 when the rink opened.

“I kind of grew up in it,” Chris says. “At the time, most people’s parents weren’t actually from Richmond.”

Aside from going away to college at Virginia Tech, Chris has played continuously since his youth. He enjoys the easygoing camaraderie of the pickup games, as well as catching up with his father.

“It’s a really good opportunity to hang out with my dad,” says Chris, an industrial engineer who lives in Walton Lake. “The league can be really serious sometimes. This is just kind of fun. Old man hockey.”

Not everyone grew up playing hockey. Bruce Blackwell, 58, began playing the game at the age of 35. To get his feet under him, Blackwell took figure skating lessons at 8 in the morning, the lone male in the class.

“It was just something I wanted to do. I liked to watch hockey,” explains Blackwell, who has his own home inspection company. “I don’t know the game real well, but I love playing it.”

Dave Daniels, a retired Chesterfield County Fire Department captain who now sells insurance, was also a late bloomer. After a fellow firefighter got him hooked on roller hockey, Daniels laced up his ice skates for the first time at 37.

At 61, Daniels says he isn’t remotely close to the oldest player he’s seen. Once, at a senior hockey tournament in North Carolina, Daniels watched a 92-year-old enter the hockey arena, laden with his goalie gear. Though he didn’t get a chance to watch the nonagenarian play, he was wowed by the idea that the man was still playing.

“Just watching him move and carry his gear, it was motivational,” Daniels says.

That doesn’t mean the sport doesn’t take its physical toll. Daniels had to take five months off from hockey after tearing his ACL in a game. Another player came back after having his hip replaced. Skating now helps the player stay limber.

“It’s a wonderful sport, and when you’re out there, no matter what you have going on in your life, you forget about it,” Daniels says.

To him, the wide range of players attracted by hockey is part of its appeal.

“You have blue collar, white collar, you have clergy, police, firefighters, teachers, attorneys,” Daniels says. “It’s a sport that crosses a lot of different socioeconomic groups, and everybody’s here for a common purpose: to chase that puck around.” ¦

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