Local players prepare for Bay State Winter Games Masters hockey
PITTSFIELD -- Paul Smachetti doesn't go to hockey practices. He only laces up his skates and puts on the goalie pads once a week for his team.
When you consider that he's still stopping shots at age 59, though, you can't say he lacks dedication.
"I think hockey's different than the other sports," he said. "Guys who play hockey love it so much that they try to play it as much as they can."
There's plenty of ice time to be had Friday through Sunday at the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Rink in North Adams, as the Bay State Winter Games' annual Masters Ice Hockey tournament will be held there.
Smachetti, a human development teacher at Taconic High School and a goalie for the Home Plate Beer Kings team in the Berkshire County Adult Hockey League, is playing for the Blizzard team in the over-50 division. The division features eight teams, and will have pool-play games Friday, Saturday and Sunday with the pool winners meeting Sunday evening for the championship.
The Home Plate team, meanwhile, ends its regular season next week against rival O'Laughlin's Pub.
"The 50-plus guys, they just want to have fun, I think," Smachetti said. "They've got some really good teams in the over-50s. ... There is a pretty amazing level of hockey, even at age 50, that these guys play."
There is also an over-30 division this year; the over-40 division has no teams and won't be a part of this year's Games.
Vietnam Veterans Rink Manager Darin Lane won't leave the rink much this weekend. Not only will he oversee the hockey being played, but he'll also be playing for the Shamrocks team in the over-30 division.
Lane, 40, said the annual tournament is a "huge tradition" in northern Berkshire County.
"For a lot of guys in their 30s, 40s and 50s, it's sort of been a rite of passage in local hockey," he said.
It also takes a lot of work just to field a full team at times. Lane estimated he made a total of 300 phone calls, emails and text messages last year to put together two teams for the Bay State Games.
"It's what we do up here to make things happen," Lane said.
To the die-hards, hockey is just that important. Smachetti didn't even start playing until he was 35, and once he got on the ice, he just kept playing. His inspiration was longtime New York Rangers netminder Eddie Giacomin, who he grew up watching on television.
Smachetti's knees are, admittedly, nowhere near what they used to be. His skating skills, he said, are still improving, but he's not great at skating out from the goal.
"I couldn't play softball now, let alone basketball or flag football. But when you're up on the skate blades, there's not that pounding," he said. "I think guys can play this game longer than they can play other games."
Plus, this isn't the kind of hockey you're going to see in the high school ranks or on television. The big hits you might see there aren't utilized at the adult level.
"Even though there's a mix of a lot of young kids in our league, guys understand that you don't go hitting people like you do in regular hockey," Smachetti said. "Guys have to go to work the next day. There's pushing and shoving along the boards, but there's no open-ice hitting."
Lane said he's pretty fortunate to be "relatively healthy" this winter. Even if he was hurt, he added, you wouldn't hear him complain. Not anywhere near his teammates, anyway.
"It's the guys we play with. We have seven guys over 50 years old," Lane said. "We're in the open age A division, which is 18 and older, at the Olympia. We're in second place [and one game out].
" ... We have helmets. We get hurt. But you can't complain when you're on a team with 50-year-old guys who don't miss a game."
To reach Matthew Sprague:
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On Twitter: @BE_MSprague.
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