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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Area sports

Silver Skaters raise a toast to keeping active on ice, whatever one’s age

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 30, 2018

Cindy Basile found a spot in the corner of the locker room and started pulling apart the laces on her worn skates.

Before taking off the rest of her hockey gear, she pulled up a small cooler to sit next to her and opened the top, revealing a bottle of Champagne and some orange juice.

“Want a mimosa?” she shouted to a couple of women still untying their skates.

She poured a drink and passed the cup down the line of women stripping off their hockey pads and mismatched uniforms.

“I keep my ladies happy,” Basile said. “A little tipsy and a little happy.”

Deb Kyle was taking off her gear while sitting next to Basile. She turned to Basile and put in her drink order for when she was done getting dressed.

“We celebrate no matter what the score is,” Kyle said.

Don’t worry – everyone in the locker room was well above the drinking age.

With her long, silver locks draped over her hockey jersey, the 66-year-old Kyle was one of the oldest of the women competing at Eagles Ice Arena in North Spokane on Sunday.

She’s closing in on some of the oldest skaters in the small group of self-proclaimed Silver Skaters. Three others have already surpassed 70.

At 72 years old, Nancy Kellner was the eldest on the ice this year. The group’s “senior” skaters, Olga Pasher, 77, and Sharon Meyer, 75, couldn’t play this season because of a few injuries they sustained in their day-to-day life.

“Let’s just say they’re hockey injuries,” Kyle said. “They’re on our injured reserve.”

The fourth annual women’s hockey jamboree, which began on Saturday, attracted 30 skaters this year, all at least 50 years old. Thirteen were from the Spokane area, while others came in from British Columbia and Idaho. One woman, Eileen Flynn, made her way to Spokane from her home in Littleton, Colorado.

“My sister-in-law lives in Spokane,” the 58-year-old Flynn said.

A couple of years ago, Flynn’s sister-in-law showed her a small blurb about the Silver Skaters’ three-game jamboree in The Spokesman-Review. In her now 13 years of playing hockey, Flynn had never heard of such a tournament, reserved for the mature players who aren’t as quick on their skates as the younger ones they play against in their weekend recreational leagues.

“I came out and it was so much fun,” she said. “I’m going to come back until I can’t.”

The majority of the players from Spokane play in the Spokane Women’s Hockey League, a recreational league that competes on Friday nights. For the older women in the league, it can be difficult to get their sticks on the puck or even get enough ice time when they’re playing alongside some quicker 20- and 30-something-year-old teammates.

“With this group, we get to actually touch the puck,” said Kellner, who organized the first Silver Skaters weekend tournament in 2015. “When we’re with the other group, we don’t get to touch the puck very much.”

Kellner, who started playing hockey when she was 48, noticed several women older than 50 who were registering with the recreational league a few years ago. The significant number of older registrants inspired her to bring together the women for a weekend to play each other at their own level.

Besides a few gray hairs, the Silver Skaters aren’t much different on the ice than the youngsters they see in league games. Although not as quick, they’re not afraid to get aggressive on the ice.

“People always think, ‘Oh, that’s just little-old-lady hockey,’” Kyle said, mimicking a person walking with a cane and bad back. “When we’re out on the ice, age, it’s not a factor at all.”

Some of them still get in full goalkeeper gear and get in between the puck and the net, an intimidating position for anyone whose reflexes aren’t as sharp as they once were.

Some of the younger women in the recreational league have shied away from guarding the net, but 60-year-old Shari DeGuire wasn’t deterred.

“I was a fastpitch catcher, so I was like, ‘Bring it!’” she said.

DeGuire started playing when she was 39 and has often traveled with the Spokane women’s competitive team to various tournaments in the country. She recently took over as goalie in the recreational league and said the view is something similar to when she played fastpitch softball years ago – except the puck challenges her reflexes a bit more than a softball.

“The puck comes in way faster than the ball,” she said. “But it’s all good. I mean, I have a glove, I have a big stick. My stick’s bigger than everyone else’s.”

The majority of the older women don’t plan on retiring from the ice for a while. For most of them, hockey is one of the few ways they can stay active without banging themselves up too much.

“This is the best exercise in the world,” Meyer said. “It doesn’t hurt your knees. I sprained my ankle and I was back in two weeks, and you can still skate.”

Even falling is easier on the body in hockey than it would be in any other sport.

“In hockey, you glide,” DeGuire said. “You glide on the ice and you wear all this gear so if you fall … you slide. The ice is very forgiving.”

Forgiving and entertaining, particularly for those watching their mothers and grandmothers getting lippy with each other on the ice.

“It’s always fun getting together,” Kellner said, especially since the group is now attracting skaters from across state lines and country borders. “It’s just turned into a sisterhood.”

It’s also turned into a reason to celebrate their older years and their love for the game.

And to crack open a bottle of Champagne.

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