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How I Got My Start in Rec Hockey

Robert Landis (forward); Partner/Origination, private equity firm

“I started playing rec hockey at the tender young age of 50, because both my 8-year-old and 4-year-old sons wanted to play. When I later became an assistant coach, I realized I knew very little about the game (my hockey skills were even worse). I had skated on ponds as a kid and could go forward, but had little ability to turn or go backwards. As my sons got better, so did I. But once each reached the 4th grade, their skills quickly surpassed mine!

“Every summer, we went to hockey camps in Canada (they with their age group, while I skated with the men’s group, who, like me, wanted to get better). In high school, my sons got much better, and one even made All State for his final two years. I, on the other hand, peaked in terms of ability but not the love for the sport, and the need for me to find a year-round form of good exercise and—even better—camaraderie.

“Little did I know that playing hockey would allow me to make contacts across a variety of business enterprises, some that have helped me professionally in my own business, but also personally with my neighbors and service providers, such contractors and electricians, as well as those in public service, like police officers and teachers. I’ve also become involved in helping to run a charity event that involves setting up a men’s competition to play in Madison Square Garden—a great opportunity to give back to the community. All from the game of hockey.”

Rick Koh (defense); Owner, copy/print shop

“As I approached the ripe young age of 39, I started to feel a mid-life crisis coming on. Since I not only love my wife (and was way too scared of what she would do to me in a divorce), the usual affair was out of the question. And since I don’t have an enclosed garage, an old convertible sports car wasn’t in the cards either.

“So one day, while shopping for jewelry for my wife, I asked the proprietor about the picture of his championship ice hockey team he had on the wall. Not only did he have a few extra pounds on him, but when he told me he hadn’t skated until he was 35 I started to think I might actually be able to do this. I had played some hockey back in high school but not much since, and was concerned about being extremely out of shape and not good enough to compete.

“Well, that night at a party I mentioned to someone I was thinking of starting to play hockey again. It turned out this individual played in the same league as the jeweler, so I knew HNA (Hockey North America) was the right place for me to mount my mid-life-crisis hockey comeback. Strange as it may seem, there turns out to be lots of guys who suddenly decide to play the sport around that age, so there must be something going on.

“Now it’s been 16 years and I enjoy playing on as many as 3 teams at the same time. So for me, rec hockey provides me with both exercise and a social life.”

Joe Frank (forward); Financial Advisor

“I went skating maybe five times as a child, but played street hockey. In the winter we froze my backyard patio and played with our obligatory Converse All-Star sneakers & Mylec hockey sticks. On my 34th birthday my wife gave me a pair of skates, and mentioned that some of her coworkers were looking for players to share the cost of ice time. So I took lessons and joined. I was a founder of my Thursday Night Hockey pickup game, which is still in existence today. My nickname was “Hitman” in a non-checking rec hockey league, which was given to me because I didn’t know how to stop and didn’t want to be late trying to get to the puck, so I used other players and the boards to stop.”

Rich DeToia (forward); Police Officer

“My dad was a pro baseball player and he was a little overbearing with the ABC’s of the sport. I grew up near a lake and found that I could skate, so my interest grew till today.”

Evan Tabachnick (forward; occasional goalie); Executive Director, Rugby NY

“I got my start in hockey thanks to my father. What started off as a chore—something my brother and I were pushed into as young kids—quickly became the thing I love most in this world. Dad really did know what was best for us.

“Like 99% of my generation, I had some trouble focusing in class… because I was thinking about hockey! My interest in the game is driven by the peace that consumes you when you step out on the ice; the perfect world we can escape to, if even for just a few hours a week. There is a perpetual desire to get better, as both a player and a student of the game. I have recently picked up coaching, as I feel the need to give back to the game that has given me so much.

“Not surprisingly, my career path has been built around the ultimate dream of a job in hockey. What keeps me going is the idea that one day work and play will merge as one; I’ll wake up every day loving what I do, and the notion of ‘work’ will cease to exist. Then I’ll know I’ve truly made it.”

Marino Mourikis (goaltender); Union Electrician

“I played roller hockey for one year at age 9 and then stopped. A girlfriend I had at 23 started rollerblading and I tagged along. That led to two years of pickup roller hockey. Ice hockey was the next step and I haven’t stopped since.”

Mike Woltmann (defense); Inside Salesperson

“It all started at the ripe old age of 14. Coming up from the Bronx (NY), this little Italian boy basically played soccer, stickball and baseball. Once I moved out to the suburbs, I watched the neighborhood kids playing street hockey, a game I had never seen before. So I purchased my first stick, a Sherwood that lasted me a couple years. And once I put that stick in my hands and scored my first goal, I was hooked forever.

“Since there was a lake that was only a few hundred yards away from my house, it was only natural for me to follow up with ice skates. I was never involved in organized hockey until 13 years ago, when a lawyer for the shopping mall nearby (which has a rink) decided to put out a flyer looking for a pickup game every Saturday morning. Thanks to my lovely wife, who got tired of listening to me going back and forth about joining, in true Bronx fashion she told me to ‘#%&$ing sign up. I’m tired of listening to you,’ so I did. That pickup game continues to this day.

“Hockey has consumed me now. I love the game, and enjoy all of the people that I have played with and continue playing with today.”

Fred Sommer (forward; rec hockey team captain); Software Project Manager

“I have always loved hockey for as long as I can remember, from watching the NY Rangers on local TV to playing foot hockey and roller hockey as a kid. I had never played ice hockey but I always wanted to. I learned to skate at Abe Stark Skating Rink in Coney Island (in Brooklyn, NY). I had gotten a pair of figure skates for my birthday when I was 12 but that was as far as I would get—I ice skated but without a stick or gloves or anything hockey related. But I always had dreamed what it would be like to play ice hockey…

“When I was 40, I had open-heart surgery. Shortly thereafter, the gym we had at work closed due to lack of membership, so I looked to another form of exercise to continue my rehab. I had bought myself a pair of hockey skates because I always wanted a pair. A local rink had a Friday morning session and I had alternate Fridays off from work, so I would attend each session I could. I would share the ice with about a half-dozen other people. The ice was always smooth and I would skate the entire time with very little interference.

“One Friday, a guy in goalie equipment showed up. I struck up a conversation with him and he told me about a hockey league. I called them up and asked where the next few games were scheduled so I could go down and watch. I then attended one of their games and determined that I could both skate as well and play hockey as well as the guys I watched out on the ice. I joined their summer league shortly afterward, and have been playing rec hockey every winter season since. My only regret is not having made the leap to ice hockey much earlier in life, but at least I have finally lived my dream.”

Lou Cavaliere, Owner, excavation contracting company

“I began playing hockey at Terry Conners Rink in Stamford, Conn., at age 6 (I am 50 years old now). I had skated on the river behind my father’s house and area ponds with my brother and friends. My dad would clear a path a half a mile and clean the ice surface so we didn’t have to trek through the snow. I played organized hockey until I finished high school. During those years I had the opportunity to skate at The New Haven Coliseum, The Nassau Coliseum, Madison Square Garden, and the Crystal Ice Palace, to mention a few. I picked up the skates again a few years later, with some friends playing pickup hockey, and sometime later I hung up my skates again due to our third child joining the family. I received my USA Hockey coaching certificate and started coaching for a few years.

“Then I saw a guy I used to coach with and he asked if I wanted to get back on the ice. I found my old hockey gear and bought a new stick, and now 5-plus years later I skate with a 50 and Over team and two others, The Red Bulls and Puck Dogs in Stamford, Conn. I also skate on a tournament team, called the Puck N Mafia, with my brother and my two sons. We play in the Vermont Pond Hockey Classic, the St. Patrick’s Tournament in Stamford, and in Bryant Park in New York City at the Big Apple Pond Hockey Classic.

“Why do I keep skating? Hockey players are some of the nicest people I have met (off the ice). Plus, hockey is great for cardio.”

Sanford Plachter (forward); Senior Marketing Manager

“I got my start playing hockey on a frozen pond in my neighborhood. When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to have a pond nearby that would freeze for approximately three weeks every winter. On weekends I would play hockey on the pond from sunrise until sunset, and would play again after school for those three weeks. I loved playing hockey on the pond. It was a great way to develop skating skills and endurance. With 20 other boys fighting for the puck, you really needed to push yourself.

“I didn’t play organized hockey until the age of 37. I had always wanted to play rec hockey on a team, and after more than 15 years of not skating at all I found a team that needed a player. Since then I’ve been working on my hockey skills and conditioning on a nearly regular basis. I attended Can/Am adult hockey camps and clinics and worked on many aspects of the game, including positioning, skating, shooting, strategy, etc. Thanks to the camps, the clinics, the teams I’ve played on and my teammates, I’ve learned a lot about hockey and have improved since. I continue to love hockey as much as I did when I was a kid playing on the pond.”

Published with permission of CrossIceHockey.com—Where Rec Hockey Lives. © 2016 Digital Media Publications, Inc. Stay tuned for more first-person stories.

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