It’s become a way of life, a highlight of the week. Something to which some 20 local hockey players aged 14 to 62 look forward every week.
It’s as much about meeting up with the boys for some camaraderie and socializing as it is about playing the game.
The “it” in question is pick-up hockey with the Baillargeon crew at the Elmira Arena. And it is something that has been going on for the better part of 34 years.
“Some of these guys have been getting together for 20-something years, close to 20 years – it’s a friendship, and you kind of miss that if you’re not there,” said Serge Cadorette, an original and founding member of the Sunday pick-up league.
Steve Webb, first vice-president of the Elmira Sugar Kings, and Cadorette’s teammate for 14 years, agreed.
“It’s that kind of group that is so well, tightly knit,” said Webb.
The games take place every week from 7 a.m. until 9 a.m. and feature some 22 regulars and several rotating players who come out when needed. It’s a no-contact league with neither referees nor scorekeepers.
Judging by its longevity, the system appears to work.
“Once in a while somebody will ask if you think it’s close; somebody will say ‘what’s the score?’ and everybody will give pretty well a different answer,” quipped Tim Baillargeon, who joined the league in 1980 and now runs it, collecting money and booking the ice.
It was these players that capped last weekend’s 24-hour hockey marathon, tacking on two hours to make it 26, symbolic of the 26 hours in a marathon.
When they joined the group, usually through a friend, by word of mouth, the players divided into two teams – one green, the other white – and maintained their allegiance for, pretty much … ever. Webb’s been playing on the same side throughout his 14 years.
Both teams, however, change in the same dressing room before games – perhaps a tad more comfortable than how it was years ago, when they started at 6:30 a.m.
“We used to get dressed at home and drive over with our equipment on and as soon as you open the arena at 6:30 we just had to put our skates on and away we went,” Cadorette said.
As for line changes, the players seem to do well without coaches, taking an average of 90 seconds per shift.
“Guys here are pretty quick if they take too long of a shift – they get told,” said Webb with a chuckle.
Though the league now bears the Baillargeon name, it is Cadorette who initiated the league some 34 years ago. A former employee of Elmira’s B & L Metals, Cadorette decided to start a league in 1975-76 when his workplace team fell apart.
“There was a demand for it,” he said, noting that a handful of guys wanted to continue playing hockey despite the disintegration of the work-place league.
Now, more than 30 years later, the league is still going strong, featuring multiple generations of players.
“It’s pretty neat now because we’ve got guys playing with their kids,” said Webb.
Up until last year, the Baillargeon group’s oldest player was 73 years old; he has since decided to finally hang up his skates after decades of play.
Throughout the course of a career spanning more than three decades, the players have seen many changes and improvements to the equipment, particularly the weight of pads and skates. Now, the equipment seems to allow the players to move more freely, quickly and with greater ease.
Though more players wear the standard equipment these days, it wasn’t always that way, Baillargeon remembers.
“When I first started with that group, in 1980 only half the guys wore equipment, and most of the guys only wore partial equipment,” said Baillargeon. Some guys would wear just shin pads and a helmet.
“We had one guy who played without skates – he wore rubber boots. Most of the time he would play goalie or in the end zone near the goal. He would just run around with his rubber boots and a hockey stick. That’s how ‘back barn’ it was. In fact, the arena was much like a barn at that time,” said Baillargeon
“I think it was only one season I saw that but I can actually attest to the fact that there was a guy out there without skates,” he said. “Strangest thing I’ve seen.”