Senior Hockey

Seniors prepare for the puck to drop at the 2019 Alaska International Senior Games coed ice hockey competition on Saturday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. Brian Ely/News-Miner

Forty-two seniors donned skates, pads and helmets Saturday for the Alaska International Senior Games coed hockey tournament at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.

Despite high slap shots — anything above the knees — and checking not being allowed, the ice was still alive with a friendly intensity.

Laird Grantham, a Fairbanks hockey veteran, served as commissioner for the AISG hockey competition, which he has organized since 2011.

For Grantham, being able to play with other seniors from different places is always a highlight of the event.

“During the regular season we chase all these young kids, but now (we) skate with players who are our ability, our speed,” Grantham said. “Most of these people have been playing in Fairbanks forever.”

Grantham said that this year’s turnout was “pretty average,” with most years seeing four teams, each with approximately 10 skaters and a goaltender.

“There was one year where we only had 35 people sign up, and I had to do three teams, and in this age group, when we had to skate back-to-back games, it just about killed people,” Grantham joked.

“Overall, it’s a great group of people, and this is like our first-of-the-season shakedown. It’s a good chance to get the rust off your blades from the summer.”

This year’s turnout of seniors was divided into four teams — red, blue, black and yellow. Because the event is coed, each team is required to have at least one man and one woman on the ice at all times.

Saturday saw the black and yellow teams play first against each other at 6 p.m., and the red and blue teams took the ice an hour and 15 minutes later. The teams played for three 18-minute periods, with one-minute intermissions.

Six minutes into the first period, Michelle Arpino, of the 45-49 age division, scored the first goal of the night for the black team. Arpino’s teammates Kit Shannon (45-49) and Matt Atkinson (50-54) followed with goals to bring the black team to a 3-0 lead.

Black team goalie Keith Berrian (50-54) was mostly a wall on the ice, letting in only one goal near the end of the first period.

In the second period, Jay Langton (55-59) contributed to the black team’s goal production and teammate Todd Mackinaw (55-59) scored shortly thereafter.

Eric Yeager smacked in the second goal for the yellow team halfway through the third period, but the black team came out on top with a 5-2 victory.

Ken Murray, an 80-year-old skater for the black team, has been competing in the AISG hockey since the games started 17 years ago.

Murray is held in high esteem by his younger teammates, especially because he manages to stay on the ice year-round.

“If I quit now, my pump will freeze up!” Murray joked.

When asked about his favorite part of the AISG hockey event, Murray said that being able to make plays has always been the best part.

“And then, of course, the postgame beer,” Murray added with a laugh.

“It’s just fun getting together with my buddies and playing hockey,” said Mackinaw, who has played hockey in the senior games for the last five years.

The Alaska International Senior Games were established in 2003, and have since drawn competitors from around Alaska, the nation and the world. The AISG also is among only a handful of state senior games to offer hockey.

“There’s a lot of history in this arena, this town, and in the people who play,” said Ruben Larranaga (60-64), who moved to Fairbanks back in the 1970s. “You’re playing with guys whose kids play with your kids, all on the same ice, so it’s a very generational thing.”

The four AISG hockey teams will continue round-robin play, with the final game being played at 7:15 p.m. Monday at the Big Dipper. The team with the most wins at the end of the competition will earn the AISG title.

Contact News-Miner sports assistant Brian Ely at 459-7589.