Clipped from The Ottawa Citizen, 22 Dec 2012
I have documented this story as I know how he feels.. As they say in Project Runway–“You are either in or you are out”. I just feel he should have played one more year. Don is probably 88 now and how he is still showing the young lads how it is done.. Linda
Booted from his league at age 79, Don Lea didn’t go down without a fight. Every athlete wants to go out on his or her own terms. That holds true if you’re the 40-year-old captain of the Ottawa Senators, or, Don Lea, 79, trying to eke out one last season of Almonte Oldtimers hockey.
Problem is, while Lea is not getting any younger (though he’s in terrific shape for his age) the league is getting younger. Almonte “oldtimers” hockey draws from a rural population, and to get the numbers they needed for pick-up hockey four times a week, what was once a 35-plus group has evolved into an array of ages ranging from 20-plus to 50-plus. The majority are in their 30s and 40s. Lea, while still a fit and capable skater he was a skating instructor and coach for many years was far and away the oldest of the oldtimers.
A couple of the league organizers suggested to Lea that he might want to play with a group closer to his age this season, a hint Lea chose to ignore by sending in his registration cheques as usual, to cover ice rental costs at the Almonte Arena. The cheques were returned to him, but first he received an email, explaining that new recruits over the past two years have accelerated “the intensity and speed of the game …” “The result is that it is just not safe for you to play with us anymore, so we are requesting that for your safety and the safety of everyone on tie ice you move to a group more suitable for you.”
The email was from Ranald McGillis, with a copy to fellow shinny organizer Mark Trimble. Hogwash, says Lea, competitive by nature, and toughened by a 21-year career in the Air Force. Lea believes he is being discriminated against because of his age, and that for some of the youngest skaters “it’s embarrassing for them” when an old dude like him “is the first one back on his feet after a collision.” Lea imagined playing just one more season with the group, then retiring gracefully next spring at age 80. Nice round number. But the guys he plays with and against nudged him out a year early. In an interview, McGillis said he feels badly that his old hockey pal did not welcome a move to a different, older group of seniors that has daytime ice.
The Almonte Oldtimers slot, which Lea was involved with for more than 30 years, is Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, and Sunday morning at 11a.m. “Phenomenal hockey hours,” Lea says, “and they’re stealing it from me.” “Don is a great guy, we loved playing with him,” said McGillis. “We all admire him playing so long we all want to do that But we have to be concerned for his safety.” McGillis himself is 54 and suddenly feeling relatively old in this speedy group.
As Lea sees it, the concern is less about safety and more about appeasing a “yappy” younger element that has entered into the oldtimers hour in recent years. Some of these players are more interested in tail-gating than shinny, he says. “And they’re not reliable,” Lea adds. “They don’t show up after Christmas because they go skiing or ride snowmobiles. We played three-on-three some nights last year because we had so few players.”
Last year, Lea says, he was forced into a role as a team “spare,” but says it was nothing for him to jump in, when called, and “score two goals and three assists.” Yes, oldtimers do keep their stats. Raised in the community, Don Lea has a deep connection to the Almonte Arena. In the drive to get a new facility in the 1980s, he helped fight city council for arena approval, then collected furniture for an entire summer and sold the collection to help raise $14,000. When the work crews arrived for rink construction, Don pitched in and helped. A longtime coach and skating instructor, he earned his Level 4 coaching certificate through Hockey Canada and was part of the coaching expedition to Russia for the “second” Summit Series of 1974. This time, the Canadian side was comprised of World Hockey Association players such as Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe. In Moscow, Lea met Howe and John “Pie-Face” McKenzie and found them to be friendly, decent men.
Lea couldn’t get over how many Soviet coaches clutched the classic Lloyd Percival coaching handbook (originally published in 1951), which was a big bit in Europe, and favoured by the great Russian coach Anatoli Tarasov. To this day, Lea uses many of the breathing and relaxation techniques advocated by Percival. While his Air Force career took him and his bride Sylvia to France, Germany and Cold Lake, AB., among other stops, Lea always returned home to Almonte.
He later worked for Leigh Instruments in Carleton Place and Bell Northern as a stationary engineer. Children Dan, Chris and Laura are as proud of their father as they are furious with the Almonte not-so-old boys for forcing him out. They marvel at Don’s ability at 79 to mow the lawn, curl at the Almonte rink and play hockey, sometimes all in the same day. When he turned 75, his. family and friends gathered in the stands to watch him play with the old-timers, a tip of the cap to an enduring man who loves hockey. In his healthy heart, Lea knows he’s capable of playing another year without getting killed on the ice, or being a menace to others. “Two nurses told me I had the vitals of a teenager,” he says, before taking part in a Friday bonspiel at the Almonte Arena. And yet, he is weary mentally weary from one activity, the fight to rejoin the pickup hockey group. His point has been made, he figures.
“They wouldn’t welcome me back,” Lea says. “There’s been too much conflict. I wouldn’t want to go back now anyway, but I thought it was so unfair what they did and I didn’t like it. I felt discriminated against” His right knee is giving him a bit of trouble. Lea slipped on a ladder a while back and landed hard, a couple of rungs down, but the leg is coming around. In the New Year, he will look into playing shinny with another group. Dare we say his peer group. Always, there is a game, and Lea is still game. He IS just 79. Too young to quit hockey.
Clipped from The Ottawa Citizen, 22 Dec 2012,