For the love of hockey, David Kaufman is willing to endure pain. At 55, the negligence attorney from Commack has had two shoulder surgeries and multiple cortisone shots for his aching knees, but that's nowhere near enough to keep him off the ice.
"When I skate, it's like flying and a sense of freedom," said Kaufman, who is a defenseman on a team in a league for players 40 and older. "There's nothing quite like it. I feel like a million bucks."
His passion for the sport started when he was 7, playing roller hockey in front of his family's Northport home, and it intensified as a member of the ice hockey team at Northport High School and Stony Brook University. After graduating from Hofstra Law in 1988, he was hired as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County and played hockey with colleagues who also loved the game.
These days, he's part of an older adult team called the Long Island Sound, which meets weeknights under the auspices of the Over-40 League, a division of the Midnight Hockey League based in East Northport. Occasionally, Kaufman also plays in a weekly evening pickup game at the Dix Hills Skating Park, which draws about 20 to 30 participants -- half of them better than 50 years old and alums of Stony Brook.
Throughout Long Island, baby boomers of all stripes -- corporate executives, tradespeople and business owners -- are regularly filing onto Zamboni-polished rinks to indulge their love of the sport. Whether playing ice hockey in a Sunday morning pickup game or on a league team, these older players make it a priority to play the game that's almost an obsession.
While many of the players have been donning ice hockey gear for decades, other die-hard players have come to the sport later in life. Sheila Fragola, 54, who lives in North Bellmore, is the goalie for the Over-40 team called Ice Kings -- the only woman on the team. She also plays goalie for three women's teams on an as-needed basis.
Since the Tennessee native saw her first hockey game about 30 years ago at Nassau Coliseum, Fragola aspired to play. Yet as the mother of three sons, she lacked the time to learn a hockey basic -- ice-skating. Six years ago, a bout with breast cancer convinced Fragola that if she could get through that painful chapter in her life, she could do anything -- including master the ice. Since then, she has finessed her skills in hockey clinics and on various teams.
"There's something about hockey that gets you addicted," said Fragola, who is among a handful of women playing in the Over-40 League. "It's so much fun, great exercise and highly competitive. Your worries and problems stay outside -- on the other side of the glass -- when you're playing."
Still, in a sport that tests quickness, stamina and reflexes, age matters. "I'm resigned at times that I don't have the speed I once had, but I don't feel old," said Brian Scripture, 60, a New York State economic development specialist. The Smithtown resident has played hockey much of his life and is the leader for the Long Island Sound team.
To keep limber, Scripture said he jogs and Rollerblades. But unlike younger counterparts who "hustle everything" during a game, he and other older players tend to be more strategic in their moves to "save your gas for when you're really going to need it."
Looking ahead, Scripture anticipates hanging up his hockey stick when the 30-pound bag that holds his gear becomes too heavy to lift onto his shoulder. "Then, I'll say, 'Enough.' "
Adult ice hockey is increasing in popularity among boomers. According to USA Hockey, the sport's national governing body in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the number of registered Long Island players 50 years and older jumped almost 75 percent in the past five years -- from 141 in the 2009-2010 season to 246 in the 2014-2015 season. During the same period, hockey players in that demographic jumped nearly 86 percent nationally, from 12,725 to 23,611.
Tom Lynn, the Midnight Hockey League's president, knew older players relished the sport but were no match for their younger counterparts, so six years ago, he launched the Over-40 League. "It's a refuge for guys who would [otherwise] have to play with 18-year-olds, and if we didn't have an Over-40 League, many would not play for fear of being injured," said Lynn, who is 58. Lynn was on adult leagues until 1993 when he started the Midnight Hockey League.
In the beginning, the Over-40 League had six teams of 12 to 18 players. Today, there are 26 teams with about 360 players, Lynn said. Games are played year-round.
While some of the league's current roster of older players are in their early 40s, about 75 percent of them are more than 50 years old -- "and some are into their 60s," Lynn said. In many instances, they have migrated to the older league from one of Midnight Hockey's 18-and-over teams.
Jim Gavin, a professor of applied human sciences at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and an expert on exercise psychology, said team sports hold participants' interest longer than exercising at the gym. "Team sports give us something more than a workout," Gavin said. "They feed our souls, and I would hunch that few people come off the ice from a hockey game saying they were bored."
Beyond its invigorating exercise, players say the sport has given them lasting friendships. For Billy Lattimore, 50, an electrician with Local 3 in New York City, his enduring love of the game and its sense of camaraderie drove him to undergo gastric bypass surgery three years ago. "I told the doctor, 'I want to play hockey again; I miss it too much,' " Lattimore recalled.
The Coram resident lost 175 pounds and now weighs 231. He plays on an Over-40 League team and picks up an occasional Sunday morning game at The Rinx in Hauppauge. "I love the sport, but I also love the laughs," said Lattimore, who also bikes and swims to stay fit.
Sean Levchuck, 52, head of pediatric cardiology at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, said, "There's a tremendous bond with anyone you play hockey with." Levchuck gets on the ice with buddies from his Stony Brook college days for Thursday night pickup games at the Dix Hills rink. Levchuck, who lives in Greenlawn, said his hockey pals have supported each other through marriages, divorces and births.
"It's a great fraternity," Levchuck said. "We all started as kids and now we're old men."
Joining the Over-40 League
Becoming a member of the Midnight Hockey League's Over-40 League requires some youth hockey experience, said Tom Lynn, the league's president.
Each of the Over-40 League's four divisions, consisting of four to eight teams, caters to a specific skill level. The Over-40 League plays at the Dix Hills Park Skating Rink and Iceworks Syosset, among other rinks. Each team plays a weekly weeknight or weekend game, which can start any time between 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Players pay $315 for a 10-game season and as many as three playoffs.
For more information about the Over-40 League, contact Lynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 631-262-0543.