Before he tumbled, sliding about 20 feet on the ice and long before he jumped the wall near the penalty box to take a breather, Harold Dean told his visitor this:
"Listen, I don't have a lot of time to talk. I'm captain today."
Dean plays hockey several times a week at the Clearwater Ice Arena for the Clearwater Old Pucks in a 60-and-over league. That's in addition to playing at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex at least twice a week.
But even among players still competing well beyond when the ageless Gordie Howe gave up the game, Dean stands out.
At 86, he is officially the world's oldest competitive hockey player, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
"I wish I didn't qualify for the world record,'' said Dean, who lives in Bayfront Tower in downtown St. Petersburg. "I wish I was 60, not 86.''
His isn't some honorary role. In fact, in this game, he scored the first goal. Of course, it didn't hurt that as captain, he made sure to put teammate Mike Dubeau on his line.
"Mikey is the best player on the team,'' Dean said.
Players on the bench immediately began to hoot and holler after the goal.
"Not bad for the old guy!''
"You must've eaten your Wheaties!''
Dean, just waved and continued to play.
With help from family members, Dean contacted the Guinness organization last year. He sent documentation, such as his birth certificate, to confirm that he is indeed an 86-year-old man still playing the sport he learned on a frozen pond in New England about 80 years ago.
"Actually, I'm a computer idiot,'' said the former Connecticut Superior Court judge, who also played hockey at St. Lawrence University in New York. "A niece was really the one who did all the work to get it. We learned in order for them to give it to me, it had to come during a (competitive) game. There had to be referees and a scorekeeper.''
The confirmation arrived at his home a few weeks after he played for a team called the Puckaneers during the Goals for a Cause Charity Senior Hockey Tournament at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar.
In January, he received a letter from the London office of Guinness:
"The oldest ice hockey player is Harold H. Dean (USA, b. 12 April 1929), who played as a member of the Puckaneers Ice Hockey Team in Oldsmar, Florida, USA, on 27 November 2015, aged 86 years 7 months 15 days.''
His wife, Joan, who has known him for well over 50 years, is used to her husband's full schedule.
"I'm not worried about him playing at his age, but to be honest, sometimes when he drives farther away, I do worry about the roads in our beautiful state,'' she said. "He's always either played hockey or, when our kids were little, he coached hockey. A great part of it now is he's with a really fine group of men (the Old Pucks). The locker room stuff is almost as important as the game.'''
Teammates also hold Dean in high regard.
"Harold is greatly respected, and to play like he does, well into his 80s, it's something that we, or I, hope to be doing,'' Dubeau said. "I think it has to with conditioning and the fact he's always played.''
"You know, Harold wakes up every morning with that feeling that he wants to play, to be here with the guys and get out on the ice, and you really have to appreciate that.''
Dean is perhaps less impressed with the Guinness honor than his teammates are.
"Here's the bottom line. About 20 years ago, I was picked for a team in Ottawa and we played for the World Cup (in the 70-and-over division). Now that was really exciting,'' Dean said. "Playing for the World Cup — that's great. The letter from the Guinness people is just telling me I'm old and getting old is not that great."
Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected]. Follow @Florida_PBJC.