A fast sport played on thin steel blades, with long wooden sticks and a hard rubber puck
sliding across cold, unforgiving ice, hockey is game that takes its toll on an aging body.
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So Dick Glassford, founder of adult hockey leagues at his ice rinks in Carol Stream and Downers Grove, is hanging up his skates.
"I can't keep up with some 60-year-old," growls Glassford, who has been the oldest player on his old-timer teams for decades and is now 81 years old.
"It's a beautiful thing, isn't it?" says Read Boeckel, a 63-year-old from Glen Ellyn who has been playing hockey with Glassford for the last 30 years. "Dick has given me my personal goal of playing until I'm 81."
Members of Glassford's Max Achium old-timers league threw a barbecue Friday night in his honor.
"Dick's always about the fun of hockey," says player Don Allord of Woodridge, who turns 65 this month after a career as a hockey referee that saw him inducted into the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame.
"A bunch of friends who get together for fun, fellowship, booze, exercise and a bit of what some would call hockey," is the way Glassford describes his league, which plays Tuesdays at the rink in Downers Grove and Sundays at the Carol Stream rink.
Aside from a few boyhood escapades in Westchester using a tree limb to smack a tin can around a frozen pond, Glassford didn't skate, let alone play hockey, until he built his hockey rinks.
"I didn't know anything about ice rinks," says the real estate developer. "All I knew about was money."
His business partner back then was Chicago Blackhawks star Pat Stapleton, whose father once dated Glassford's mother as teens back in Ontario, Canada. With his young son, Cameron, developing an interest in hockey, Glassford thought an indoor ice rink might fill a need in the suburbs. He built his Downers Grove Ice Arena in 1971.
"We opened the doors and didn't know if anybody would show up," remembers Glassford. He drew so many customers, he opened the Carol Stream Ice Arena the following year and developed a love of hockey.
"It's the most difficult sport to learn," says Glassford, whose sports career before old-timers hockey consisted of one unproductive year of eighth-grade basketball. "You've got blades on your feet. You've got to learn how to skate. You've got to keep moving. You've got to be tenacious."
He started coaching youth teams. While daughters Lauren and Gayle developed the figure skating skills that would lead them to professional careers with ice shows in Europe, Glassford founded and played on a father-son hockey team called the Hot Dogs. That morphed into an adult team, but the men's leagues were "all foul language and cheap shots," says Glassford. So in 1983, he started Max Achium, which he figured sounded like the Latin equivalent for Great Aches. There are no dues, but players shell out $15 a game and are expected to buy jerseys, one white and one blue. Players can't just show up, either. You must be invited.
A former Marine drill instructor, Glassford makes the rules and enforces them. Max Achium doesn't allow checking, rough play or slap shots. Fighting may be a part of the National Hockey League, but if Glassford sees a raised fist, that player is banned for life.
"He polices this league as if it is his family," says Dave Zdan, a 50-year-old forward from Winfield who knows all about police work in his job as a detective in the Wheaton Police Department. When Zdan and other police officers in the league skate on the same shift, they are known as "the blue line."
Most of the injuries are bruises from pucks and accidental spills.
"We've had more heart attacks than fights," says Glassford, who happily notes that, unlike fighters, guys who leave with chest pains often come back to play. The league draws people from all walks of life and has upped its minimum age from 30 to 35 and now 40 as the players age.
"They get tired of playing with the young hotshots," says Glassford, who sets the teams, makes out the lineups and ensures that guys play against people of similar abilities.
"I was pretty good at diving and getting right back up again," Boeckel says of his defenseman play a dozen years ago. "Now, I'm pretty good at diving."
Not only does Glassford cope with all ages and personalities, he balances players just learning how to skate with elite athletes.
"Nobody pays 15 bucks to watch some hot shot skate the length of the ice," Glassford says in a speech that all the players know by heart. "You either start passing or go home."
The first-round draft pick of the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs in 1977, 54-year-old John Anderson has played with Max Achium during the years whenever he could find time in his schedule as former Chicago Wolves coach and current assistant coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. Anderson scored 282 goals in the NHL and could score at will against amateur old-timers, but he embraces Glassford's philosophy.
"I don't think I've ever seen him shoot on goal," Boeckel says.
Retired Naperville banker Glenn Comstock, 64, had never played hockey until his business relations with Glassford coaxed him onto the ice.
"The goalie didn't show up and Dick had some equipment, and the rest is history," says Comstock, who has manned Max Achium nets for the last 25 years. He's got sore knees and has taken a few pucks off his body, but he's never suffered a serious injury.
"We put a lot of these rules in so people can get up and go to work in the morning," Comstock says.
Glassford didn't keep records for the first few years, but now he boasts a folder with information on 765 people who have played with Max Achium, about 100 of whom still play.
"It's really not about the hockey," Boeckel says often to teammates. "My wife (Cherie) has Oprah, and I have you guys."
"It's an excuse to get together, that's what I call it," says Barb Giblin, longtime general manager of Glassford's rinks and the woman to contact for information about Max Achium. Email email@example.com or visit the downersgroveicearena.com and carolstreamicerink.com websites for details.
Glassford has organized hockey trips to Switzerland, Sweden, Canada and even Las Vegas. His players often socialize with each other off the ice.
"We've developed friends that last," says Allord, who retired from the Amoco research center in Naperville and now has a travel business.
"They go to each others' weddings, wakes, vacations," Glassford says, noting that players have lots of time in the locker room to share their joys and concerns with each other.
"You're exhausted by the time you get your skates laced up," Zdan laughs.
Just as Glassford's Dazzler skating program for kids promises "There Is Always A Place For You!" his old-timers league finds a place for anyone who wants to have fun and play by their rules.
"You don't stop play because you get old. You get old because you stop playing," reads one of the sayings in Glassford's busy office. But he's had a tough year. His wife of 58 years, Joni, died in May. Glassford developed a rotary cuff problem that makes it difficult for him to raise his arm. While he avoided broken bones playing hockey, he tripped and fell into his compost heap this summer, breaking his collar bone.
A letter on July 4 from fictitious league official Abacromby Dinkle announced Glassford's retirement.
"It's my decision," says Glassford, who used to play seven-card stud poker. "You've got to know when to fold them."
Of course, he'll still run both ice rinks, go to all the Max Achium games, set the teams, figure the lines and enforce the rules. He does see himself returning to the game he loves at least for one more game.
"June 8, 2013, is my 82nd birthday," Glassford says. "I'd like to be able to say I skated until 82."