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For the Over-80 U.S. Team, Age Is Just a Number

By Steve Mann, 02/23/24, 4:00PM MST


The Over-80 USA Hockey Team, comprised of players from eight different states (New Hampshire, Minnesota, Alaska, Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois, Florida and California), came together in the Fall of 2023 to compete in the Canada 150 Cup tournament in B

For most athletes, once they reach the typical retirement age, time is spent looking back, and reminiscing about the glory days. But there’s a USA Hockey team of mostly octogenarians that isn’t ready to play that game. They’re still in their glory days, and skating at the highest level possible for their age group.

The Over-80 USA Hockey Team, comprised of players from eight different states (New Hampshire, Minnesota, Alaska, Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois, Florida and California), came together in the Fall of 2023 to compete in the Canada 150 Cup tournament in Burlington, Ontario. 

Thumbing their nose at convention and perception, the team, led by 84-year-old coach Ken McKinnon – a University of New Hampshire Hall of Famer – emerged victorious over the host Canadians at the international competition, which was played for the first time in 2019.

Berlin, New Hampshire native Larry Garon was one of the goaltenders on the winning United States team, and its youngest member, at age 76 (while the team and tournament is traditionally for players 80-years-of-age and older, Team USA’s goaltenders were given an “exception” as it was a challenge to find goalies that made the age cut).

“The first game we won 3-2 and we tied the second game, so we ended up with the most points and won the tournament,” said Garon. “I saw a lot of shots but was able to save them. The first shot I saw was actually a breakaway. They weren’t expecting my poke-check. It was so enjoyable playing with these guys from all over the country. There were so many skilled players.”

How it Came Together

After a runner-up finish in 2022, the process of forming the 2023 Team USA roster began. The team needed a goaltender, and following the recommendation of a local New Hampshire historian, McKinnon made the two-hour drive to Berlin to watch Garon play. McKinnon was impressed, but even more so when he learned, according to Garon, that Garon wasn’t just patrolling the crease against players in his age group, but against players sometimes 50 or more years his junior, every Wednesday night.

“He (McKinnon) stood behind my net behind the plexi glass while we played and at the end I turned around and he gave me two thumbs up,” recalled Garon. “He said ‘you’re definitely going to end up playing.’”

A Non-Traditional Journey

Garon’s path to representing his country on the ice in his late 70s was anything but typical. In fact, he says he never played organized hockey as a kid and wasn’t as good as his brother. His dad finally got him a pair of oversized skates and he won a stick at a church raffle and made his way to the local rink, or the ice in his backyard, where he played and fell in love with the sport. 

“The first time I played goalie was in my senior class intramural game that we won, and once I completed my two-year trade school, I played defense on a local city league team,” he said. “I got to play defense with my brother in the North Country Hockey League in Berlin in my 30s. I didn’t play goaltender regularly until I was 34. In the 1980s, we got to play the Can Am tournaments in Lake Placid and got to meet great players such as Gordie Howe. Our teams always won medals at those tournaments. Then when I was older, I played in some more competitive 35-and-older leagues into my 40s and 50s. But I never thought I’d still be playing into my 70s.”

Playing into Your 80s: What it Takes

Competitively playing a sport like hockey, with the athleticism and endurance required to skate, change direction, pass and shoot, plus all of the collisions and falls that come with the game, is not easy. For most people, the thought of playing into their 70s or 80s seems downright impossible. But not for Garon, who, despite having multiple surgeries on his shoulders, tearing an ACL and playing on knees that he describes as “bone on bone,” loves competing on the ice more than ever.

“I love the challenge of playing with the younger kids especially, going against guys that I could be their grandfather,” he said. “I do my physical therapy and stretching. I watch videos to help me get better at the game. I do training before the season to get ready. I think it’s just good genes. Even the surgeon who did my rotator cuff surgeries can’t believe I’m still playing.”

Garon, who hopes to have the opportunity to defend the Canada 150 Cup title next year, has some advice for middle aged players who are hesitant to get back onto the ice. 

“I’ve told a lot of guys you quit too early,” he said. “They turn 30 and think they’re too old to play the game. And really they’re at their best. You have to find a way to keep playing. As they get older they say there’s nobody else their age to play against. Well, then play with the younger guys. You can challenge yourself to get better and keep up with them for a number of years. It takes effort to go out there and do it, but once you get out there, you’ll have fun.”

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