THE ADVOCATE ASKS: Frank Regan, 85, talks about how he stays fit in the Retired Guys Hockey League at Hockeytown USA
Editor’s Note: For this week, we sat down with Frank Regan, who at age 85, still plays ice hockey in the Retired Guys Hockey League at Hockeytown USA on Route 1 in Saugus. Regan talked about the pains and pleasures of people (there’s a woman who plays with them) his age lacing up the ice skates and moving up and down the rink. Regan, a Belmont native and U.S. Marine veteran of the Korean War Era, worked for Raytheon Co. in Andover for 35 years. He was married to the late Nancy Regan for nearly 60 years before she passed away last November. He has six children and 13 grandchildren. Regan learned to skate at Spy Pond in Arlington. He played club hockey in college for a couple of years and for several years in the Industrial League when he worked at Raytheon. Regan spent 25 years officiating hockey at the youth, high school and collegiate levels. For several years, he officiated games in women’s collegiate hockey. He got involved with Retired Guys Hockey – an informal recreational league for players 60 years and older. There are no referees or time-keeping. Body checking, other hard physical contact and slap shots are not allowed. Some highlights of the interview follow.
Q: So what has been the highlight of your 20 years with the Retired Guys Hockey League?
A: Building friendships. Having fun. Being able to do it [play hockey].
Q: Yeah, it must be just the satisfaction of just being able to lace up the skates and go out there.
A: Yes. Exactly.
Q: Do you remember when it was founded?
A: When we first started the pickup hockey, which would be somewhere around the late 90’s, we had a couple of guys who knew each other bring hockey sticks and shoot the puck around; then it got up to a half dozen, then eight to 10. It was kind of unofficial and it grew from there. We picked up that name. I don’t know where it came from. It was pretty quick – “Retired Guys.” I don’t know who brought it up, but that was the formula. It’s who plays there in the morning. If you’re retired, you play in the morning.
Q: What’s it feel like to be the oldest guy in a hockey league? Eight-five years old and still playing!
A: It’s indescribable. I don’t know how to describe it, other than to say I’m fortunate to have the genes to play at this age.
Q: So how long have you been the oldest guy in this league?
A: Dick Weeks retired about two years ago, and I became the oldest. He retired at 87 and I’m trying to break his record. There’s another guy who is going to be 80 this year – Dick Denham – and he’s from Saugus.
Q: And what’s the makeup of the league?
A: It’s a great bunch of guys – some college and All Americans who love to play. There are some very talented hockey players, but they play down to the level of the guys who aren’t so good, like myself. And we have a great time.
Q: How many members in the league right now?
A: There’s about 25.
Q: And, other than the goalies, it’s a 60 and over league?
A: That’s correct.
Q: How many times a week do you play?
A: Three times a week and once in the summer; we cut back in the summer sessions to one day a week.
Q: Now, during the rest of the week, do you do any training to keep in shape?
A: I ride a bike, but not in the winter. I ride my bike in the good weather, and I put two- to three-thousand miles a year on it, just doing trails and off-roads.
Q: Now, how long have you been playing hockey?
A: Well, I have been skating all of my life, I guess you might say, off and on.
Q: How old were you when you first put on the skates?
A: I was around seven or eight.
Q: And then when you first got into some competitive hockey?
A: I was probably 15 or 16.
Q: And what was that?
A: That was a league prior to high school, called the Mayflower League at the Skating Club in Allston. And that kind of got us geared up to try out and play high school hockey.
Q: And then you did some skating in high school through college?
Q: And what was the biggest stage you played hockey on?
A: It was the Industrial League, down in Quincy, the South Shore League in the early 60’s, where they had a lot of good college hockey players. And I was a lower tier player. I met a lot of great guys and I played against some real good competition.
Q: And you also did some hockey officiating?
A: Yes. I did youth, high school and college.
Q: How many years?
A: Oh, 25 years.
Q: What position do you play?
A: I play left wing.
Q: Do you score a lot of goals?
A: I get lucky once in a while.
Q: On a typical day, you play how much of the game?
A: Probably half of the game. We have two lines, so we probably end up playing close to 30 minutes. You know, we’re all retired!
Q: How does an 85-year-old guy condition himself to play hockey?
A: Well, I watch what I eat and I try to stay in shape. I don’t put on a lot of weight, so I can get up and down the ice and compete against the other guys.
Q: So you’re basically in training the whole time?
A: Pretty much. Yes.
Q: You’re on the Tom Brady [New England Patriots star quarterback] diet?
A: Good question! I’m not that dedicated to hockey as Tom is to football. I can tell you that.
Q: And there are some rules that go with this game – for the players in your league – that make it a little different?
A: Well, we say no checking. If somebody falls and they get right up, we continue to play. The rule is ‘Have fun and don’t get hurt.’ If somebody falls and they need a minute or they need help getting up, we stop the play. So it’s a safety thing. Nobody is running anybody into the boards or taking slap shots or trying to injure somebody. It’s a gentleman’s game.
Q: Is it the same teams all of the time or is it like pickup?
A: We pick sides and are switching all of the time, moving the talent around and trying to make it as competitive as possible.
Q: The main point is just getting out there and having some fun?
Q: And exercise?
A: Yes. It’s about the best cardiovascular workout you can get. I refer to it as a “Seniors Delight.” It’s age 60, the introductory level, to infinity. I guess I am the infinity.
Q: What do you say to the person out there – who’s maybe in their 60’s or 70’s – and they’re looking for some exercise?
A: If they’re a skater, c’mon down. We’ve picked up people that way. They’re welcome to come down, try it out or look at it. Some haven’t come back. Some have.
Q: Now, on the goalies: Goalies are the only ones who aren’t 60-plus?
A: That is correct. It’s hard to get goalies.
Q: It’s hard to get goalies your age, or just period?
A: It’s hard to get goalies, period.
Q: Were there ever any old timers, the 20 years you have been in the league, who were goalies?
A: No, not that I can recall. We played for a long time without goalies. We just couldn’t get them. Jay [Small Saves cartoonist J. DeMarco, who appears weekly in The Saugus Advocate] was a gold mine for us. He’s excellent. He’s really tough to beat. Some of the goalies weren’t that good. You could just shoot the puck right by them. Not Jay.
Q: This is at the Hockeytown USA rink? Do you also play at the Kasabuski Rink?
A: No. Once we left Kasabuski, we never went back. They priced us right out of the game, or priced themselves right out of the game.
Q: So the league was initially at Kasabuski. For how many years?
A: Probably about 10, and they changed the management, and things just didn’t work out.
Q: So for the last 10 years, you have been at …
Q: Where are these guys in your league from? Mostly Saugus and the surrounding communities?
A: Yes. Saugus and the surrounding towns. We have a couple of guys who would come down from New Hampshire. They don’t come every time, because they got a pretty good ride. But the majority are from right around the Saugus area. We have a female who plays for us. You might want to mention her: Maureen Wood. She’s from Wakefield and she’s just as good as the guys. She’s a tenacious hockey player.
Q: All of these guys … just to be in your 60’s and out there, skating around and taking shots … that’s a pretty good workout, isn’t it?
A: We work out for about 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning. … Did you ever play hockey?
Q: Just pond hockey when I was a kid.
A: We all probably have. We’ve all skated. But it’s a good physical workout: stop, go, turn. … It’s not like on the treadmill, where you are looking at the same person next to you the whole time.
Q: Does somebody drop the puck at the beginning of the game?
A: No. We’re out skating around. Somebody picks up the puck. They shoot it the length of the ice, and that starts the game. After a goal, the team that scores moves back and the other team just brings it up. There’s no face-offs. It’s pond hockey.
Q: Do you get any spectators watching it?
A: No, we don’t get anybody to come down and watch. Unless you knew somebody out there you were watching, it would be a dull game to watch.
Q: The highlight of your career with this league – you had an exhibition game with the Boston Bruins alumni a few years back? Tell me about it.
A: Playing against the Boston Bruins alumni was our claim to fame. We played against them in a fundraiser about 15 years ago. That was our big moment. They come around for fundraisers. They play to the crowd but it’s good hockey. They can turn it on and score or they can relax and let you score. It’s an up-and-down game. And then you retire to the nearest pub after the game and meet all of the guys and have a good time. It’s a social night. It was a lot of fun.
Q: So that was a one-shot deal?
Q: And there were some hockey Hall of Famers or former stars with you?
A: Ken Hodge (former Bruin) from Lynnfield was there, Lyndon Byers.
Q: So what’s the main thing you get out of something like this?
A: Satisfaction. The satisfaction of not being a couch potato – being able to do it and enjoy it.
Q: Now, do some of the old-timers get competitive when they play, take it really serious?
A: Yep. Some get very competitive. Some of them, we have to tone them down. They take it serious. They try and keep score. They might say, “This goal didn’t count because you were off-side.” They like to mix it up. Oh yeah, we’ve got a couple like that. They’re known for it and we know who they are.
Q: But because you’re switching sides all the time, it doesn’t really matter who wins or loses.
A: I have a saying when they are arguing about the score: “At this stage in life, we’re all winners.” You’re right. With the changing and everything, we don’t keep standings. We don’t keep wins and losses. It’s strictly for fun and hockey – no statistical focus. That’s what makes it good. It’s strictly for fun. Sometimes we’ll use the old adage on the pond: Come 10 o’clock, some of the guys will start to leave and it starts to wind down, and somebody says, “How much longer are we going to play?” And somebody says, “Next goal wins.” We call it the GW – the game winner – so somebody scores; “We won!” That’s what it is all about. It’s a fun time – nothing serious. You don’t go home and say, when somebody asks how your game was, “Well, we lost.” It’s always, “I had a great time. We had fun.”
Q: So the score is really irrelevant?
A: Exactly. Somebody brought down one of these little foot things where you keep score. It didn’t last the first game. Somebody went out and scored, and then there was a goal that was disputed. It didn’t count. Before the end of the game, we decided we didn’t need it [the score keeper]. There was too much argument and confusion. We weren’t keeping score, so why did we have that? That was years ago when we were at Kasabuski. We had one fight in the whole 20 years, and it was two brothers, and we had to pull them apart. Other than that, we’ve had very few injuries. Once in a while guys will hurt themselves and be out for a while and will come back.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share about the league, about the experience, about the pains and pleasures of playing in the Retired Guys Hockey League?
A: Just that it’s a tremendous group of guys to be around. It’s about the real camaraderie. The catalyst is the hockey, and that brings the guys together, and we talk about things in the dressing room and on the ice. There may be a dust-up or an argument about something, but we leave it on the ice. There’s no grudges.
As far as injuries, if a guy gets a little bump, a sore muscle or a pulled hamstring, he might sit out a few weeks. Somebody broke their ankle a few years ago. That’s the biggest injury I can recall.
Q: And so what do your kids think about you playing hockey at your age?
A: They encourage me to keep going.
Q: So why is an 85-year-old guy like you out on the ice?
A: I sometimes ask that myself.
Q: And how long do you plan to do this?
A: As long as I can. I’m planning to skate to the grave!
Q: Of all the guys that play in your league, any of them college standouts?
A: We have two that made College All American, from Northeastern and Boston College. And we have some other guys who … maybe they weren’t All American … but they played college hockey and it shows.
When I talk about two teams, we call it an A or a B. Now A is six against six with the goalies, and the B is six against six with goalies; but the A would be called the Super Stars, the college guys who really move; and the B are the guys like myself, who aren’t as good who are just out there playing. So there is a difference on the ice. The B guys watch the A guys play, and then we go out and try to emulate them, but we’re not even close.
Q: So you will play just against the B players?
A: Yes. I will be playing my equivalent. Sometimes, when it gets mismatched and there are more A than B or vice versa, a B guy may end up with the A’s and he’s out of place, or the A guy ends up with the B’s and he dominates. It isn’t so much on winning; it’s very little on winning. It’s just having a lot of fun and scoring a goal now and then, making an assist and having a good time.
Q: And if somebody wants to sign up for this, who should they contact?
A: They should come down to the rink. We don’t have a real guy to contact. They just come down to the rink and into the dressing room. We will welcome him with open arms, and he’ll get all the information he needs.
Q: And that’s …
A: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We skate from 9 to 10. Nobody wants the ice then. The kids are in school, and the middle-aged guys are working, so we have the ice to ourselves. Anybody can join. It’s $5 a skate. That’s one of the benefits of skating there – the price. You couldn’t get a better deal monetarily. You pay $5 if you show up. If you don’t show up, you don’t pay.
Q: That’s pretty darn good.
A: You can’t beat it anywhere around here for that price, so if there are some retired guys who are 60 and older who can skate and like hockey, we welcome them.