Octogenarian hockey player happy to share game again with NHL pros

Sat Jan 19, 2013 7:31am EST
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By Neale Gulley

NIAGARA FALLS, New York (Reuters) - As an 89-year-old recreational hockey player who has never lost a tooth to a puck or an opponent's elbow, Paul Koukal is a man who knows how to beat the odds.

So when he says he is hopeful his beloved Buffalo Sabres will skate their way from this weekend's delayed National Hockey League season opener to their first Stanley Cup championship, he may be on to something.

"I think they should get it one of these days, maybe in my lifetime. They'd better hurry," said Koukal, a retired dentist as he donned skates on Thursday to play in his weekly men's league hockey game.

His "Leafs" shut out the "Canadiens" 4-0, and Koukal, wearing a jersey printed with the number 9 and "Doc" on the back, left the ice victorious.

"I don't go into the penalty box very often," Koukal said, explaining how he managed never to lose a tooth after decades playing a sport where a gaping smile is considered collateral damage.

To his family's cheers of "Doc, Doc, Doc," he skated out onto the public ice rink with his teammates in the non-contact Niagara Falls Senior Alumni Hockey League. They are retired factory workers, school administrators, physical therapists, electricians and accountants, most aged 45 to 75.

"We all started this thing back when we were 30 years old and now we're all getting up there, but we just love the sport so much we just keep going at it," said Leafs co-captain Jim Heft, 66, a retired electrician.

Tom Reilly, 75, from the opposing Canadiens team, called it a "respectful league" where players of similar strengths find one another on the ice.   Continued...

Paul Koukal, a retired dentist, arrives at the rink for a game with his Niagara Falls Senior Alumni Hockey League's Leafs, in Niagara Falls, New York January 17, 2013. REUTERS/Doug Benz