For many Florida natives, ice hockey holds a certain exotic allure. It becomes really exotic when young men are competing with players who are old enough to be grandparents. That's what happens when the Florida Killer's Bees Adult Hockey League hits the rink at the Clearwater Ice Arena. Players who grew up celebrating the exploits of Maurice "the Rocket'' Richard in the 1940s and 1950s take to the ice with younger fellows who were in high school or college when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004.
Out of the recreational league's 50 members, the youngest players are in their early 20s, and half are older than 50.
"And I'll say 10 are older than 60, but that's as high as I want to go,'' said Craig "Killer" Killingbeck, the league's founder. "Age doesn't matter so much. It's all about health.''
Some skate inside the 43-degree arena with sharp precision. Other players have a more sluggish pace. That's okay, though, because this game has no boundaries, said Killingbeck, who spoke to the Times by phone from Ontario, where he runs another league.
"It's all for the love of hockey,'' he said.
There's Ron Pirie, a retired insurance broker from Ontario. He started playing when he was 6 years old. That was seven decades ago. Despite having a stroke in 2004, Pirie takes to the ice two or three times a week.
"Well, I can't say that even at my age I take any precautions. But of course, I don't go out and bump people around anymore,'' joked Pirie, who has a winter home in Pinellas Park.
There's Kevin McCormack, 67, a snowbird from Newfoundland visiting St. Petersburg.
"The older guys are out here because for hockey players they just have to keep moving. It's in the blood,'' he said.
Harold Dean, 82, agrees. The retired Superior Court judge from Connecticut has no intention of hanging up his skates any time soon. "It's not as tough on the knees as, say, basketball or tennis,'' he said.
Dean, who also has a winter home in St. Petersburg, says his secret is lacing up his skates regularly. "At this age, you don't want to stop playing for a long period of time. As long as you don't stop, you can play it forever.''
Killingbeck, 58, acknowledges that playing ice hockey still doesn't seem natural to many born in Florida.
"I've noticed there seems to be a collection of three different types on the Clearwater league,'' he said.
"There's the Americans who learned the game and played it somewhere else, only to make sure to find the arena once they moved to Florida. There's the Canadians who married American girls and moved to the Clearwater area. And then there's snowbirds like myself who come down and want to make sure to keep playing.''
Dean has seen some subtle changes in the sport since he played at the college level at St. Lawrence University in the 1940s.
"One difference is players nowadays are much bigger," he said. "Back then, there were a lot of guys the same size as me playing.''
One quality that seems timeless is the camaraderie the sport creates, added McCormack. "You get these guys in the locker room, and it's like they are 17 all over again, and still, they only want to talk about one thing. Women.''
Piper Castillo is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.