You don’t have to be a real old timer to play Oldtimers Hockey in Dawson City. Anyone from 35 years and up can play on one of the three teams in the league.
“In professional hockey, 35 is pretty old,” says Brent MacDonald, president of the Oldtimers Association. “That’s where the name came from.”
MacDonald, who’s been playing in the league for 16 years and is also in charge of one of the teams, the Rams, enjoys the variety of age and professions the league has.
“Our oldest player is 71, and we have miners, writers, and government workers. What they all have in common is hockey,” he says.
The season normally starts in December and ends in March. The late start is largely due to the weather-dependant natural ice in the arena. MacDonald points out that other teams in the Yukon and Alaska normally start their season in October wherever arenas have artificial ice.
“The short season hampers preparedness for Dawson when it comes to tournaments,” says MacDonald. “It can be a challenge.”
It all starts off with a draft pick. All three teams, the Diggers, the Generals and the Rams, pick their players, and then draw the name of a goalie out of a hat. Once the teams hit the ice, they play twice a week, with two games scheduled per night. In order to have enough teams to play each other, a minor hockey team is included in the roster.
“Playing with kids is a way to mentor them and improve their skills,” says MacDonald. “You always play better when you play up.”
Tournaments in other communities in Yukon and Alaska are also part of the hockey season.
“Tournaments are fun because it’s a way to celebrate hockey, see different players, and have some different competition,” MacDonald says.
Dawson will be hosting a tournament on the weekend of Feb. 12. Regular games take place on Friday and Saturday, with the play-offs happening Sunday morning. There will be a banquet Saturday night. Teams from all over the Yukon and even Alaska will come to Dawson to play for the Oldtimers Trophy, which Dawson won last year for the first time in 10 years.
“A tournament is fun and more competitive,“ says MacDonald. “We need to step it up to keep the trophy in Dawson.”
MacDonald is worried about the ice for the upcoming tournament. The winter has been unseasonably warm, which could affect the quality of the natural ice. MacDonald remembers in the past when tournaments had to be cancelled at the last minute due to bad ice conditions.
He hopes that the Dawson City Council succeeds in their plan to get artificial ice for the arena.
“That would make a definite change,” he says. “It would make for a longer hockey season, guarantee tournament weekends, and allow more recreational activities in general.”
In the meantime, the players continue to play the game that they love. One of the perks of Oldtimers Hockey, says MacDonald, is the socializing afterwards.
“We’re all friends,” he says.
“We try to do a cook-out three times per season with each team having the chance to host and bring all kinds of wild game and fish for everyone else to enjoy. It’s good fun with a good bunch of guys.”