Nothing sets Bruce Browne apart when he’s between the pipes. The goalie is skilled at his position and knows what it takes to beat the opposition.
When Browne sheds his mask, though, he’s not your normal netminder. He turned 72 this year.
“People think I’m in my 50s,” Browne said. “I do not look 72. I’m very far from looking 72. … I feel like I’m just a kid.”
Browne is the only goalie for the Brews Brothers of the San Diego Ice Arena Adult League in Mira Mesa, Calif., so he’s used getting all the playing time. Upon picking up the sport at age 35, Browne wasn’t the most skilled on the ice and taught himself how to play goalie.
“I didn’t know how to skate and I always thought the boards were made for stopping,” Browne said.
As longtime teammate Jim Allen says, Browne has gotten better with age, just like a fine wine from Napa Valley.
“The passion’s still there,” said Allen, 62. “When the playoffs roll around, he steps it up a notch. He plays hurt, he’s a warrior.”
Browne is retired from the U.S. Navy and was a postal carrier for 20 years, which kept him in the best shape of his life walking his mail route every day. These days he stays in shape by working out twice a week.
It’s not usual for him to feel his age after a tough game on the rink.
“I keep looking for that truck that hit me when I wake up in the morning. I get out of bed and say, ‘Anyone catch the number of that truck?’” Browne joked. “It takes me the next day before I start feeling it.”
Browne, who is also a pitcher in a summer softball league, admits his reflexes aren’t what they used to be, but he has a good time competing against the younger players in the league.
“I like beating the kids,” Brown said. “I can’t help [improve] my skill level if I’m playing older players. I want to play the younger guys because that’s where I hone my skills.”
“It’s fun to see kids when we beat them, they get pretty frustrated getting beaten by someone that age,” said Allen, the team’s assistant captain. “That’s probably one of the biggest thrills is when we pull off a victory, the handshake you can just see the disgust on these young guys like, ‘Man, how did these old farts beat us?’”
The Brews Brothers have an average in the mid-40s and there are a number of players in their 50s. The team is in a transition where it’s bringing in younger players because the league has gotten significantly younger. The San Diego Ice Arena Adult League consistently improves and once featured a young 16-year-old phenom named Chris Chelios.
The Brews Brothers — who back in their heyday had Browne playing with his son and also his twin brother — got its start just over 20 years ago, and Browne and Chris Peterkin are the only two original team members remaining. Allen has played with the team for 12 years.
“We’re a pretty proud bunch as far as the name goes,” Browne said. “We get along and we’re real lucky to have people come in that get along with the other players.”
The Brews Brothers have a fun time on and off the ice. Peterkin throws an annual Labor Day event called “I survived another hockey season.” The team also volunteers for a local ice skating charity event each year.
Browne and the Brews Brothers usually compete in both the winter and summer hockey league, but Browne is taking this summer off to get his “head on straight” and let his body heal; however, he’s still going to be playing softball.
Browne doesn’t have any immediate plans to hang up his skates.
“There’s like four or five of us that are like, ‘When you quit, we’re quitting,” Allen said. “So he kind of feels the pressure that if he keeps playing, we can’t stop.”
“As long as the team will have me, I’ll play,” Browne said. “I do want to play until I’m 75, that’s my goal.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”