Hockey veteran Gerry Dudziak, 56, of Rolling Meadows is passing his love of the game down to his granddaughter as she competes in a league where most of the participants are boys.
Dudziak, the captain of an over-40 team, coaches his granddaughter, Nina Griffiths, 8, also of Rolling Meadows, in the Mite Majors developmental league.
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There, he helps lead Nina and her teammates as they practice once or twice each week, then during games on Saturdays.
"We really have a great time," Dudziak said. "It's kind of bonded us together because we're both hockey players. She's kind of taken after grandpa."
At the Mite Majors level, games are played across the ice with movable pads used to create boundaries. Games are faster and feature more scoring for the younger players when compared to games played on the full length of the ice.
"She scores a lot of goals, especially against her grandpa" when he's playing goal, Dudziak said.
Dudziak started playing hockey on outdoor rinks, or "ponds," with the neighborhood kids when he was a youth.
When he was 11, he and a friend signed up for the Arlington Heights Rangers hockey team. He later went on to play with the Fremd High School club team.
After graduating from high school in 1976, Dudziak tried out for the only non-scholarship spot available on the Northern Michigan University Division 1 team, but he was the last person cut. He returned home and played two years for Harper College in Palatine, then for two years at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
During that time, he married and started a family. When his kids were growing up, his daughter participated in figure skating and his son skated recreationally, but neither played hockey.
Dudziak joined a men's league team around 1980 and eventually became the captain of a team called "Gerry's Kids." Eleven of the 14 players are older than 50, and seven are older than 55.
Even though he is battling knee problems and has a little trouble keeping up with the younger players, Dudziak plays strong defense and manages to catch his breath by changing shifts frequently.
"I still love it. I don't ever plan on quitting," Dudziak said. "I want to play until the cows come home."