At four-years old, Milt Brandson picked up a hockey stick for the first time. Seventy years later, he’s still honing his on-ice skills, encouraged by like-minded teammates and a deep-rooted love of Canada’s national winter sport.
The main character in an emblematic great-white-north tale, the young Brandson used to take an old beat-up stick and mangled puck to an outdoor patch of ice growing up in Manitoba.
Progressing from frozen ponds to cold, indoor small-town rinks, to intramural leagues in university, Brandson has adopted recreational hockey as a permanent pasttime.
“Hockey. I’ve always thought as a real fun game to play and a challenge,” says the 74-year old. “There’s a real good feeling when you’re out with friends, and just the game itself – the thrill of making a good pass or scoring a goal. The camaraderie, it’s just a good Canadian feeling.”
Brandson, fellow hockey devotee Ken Rozniak, and a group of tenants or associates with the then Towerlane Mall, spearheaded one of Airdrie’s rare recreational leagues in 1981. The Maulers were born, eventually splitting off with the Sunrisers, who play in the early hour Sunday mornings at Genesis Place.
Ranging in age from 40-70 years, and beyond in Brandson’s case, this group of shinny supporters come from all walks of life – including farmers, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, truck drivers, electricians and many more occupations.
“You’re playing with other older people, it’s just for the fun of the game. There’s no pressure, no one trying to make it to any other level. We’re not good enough to begin with and never were,” adds Brandson with a chuckle. “There’s no animosity and you don’t have to worry about any hackers. That’s why we went to the recreational game 40 years ago.”
This Sunday morning, sporting the white, maple leaf Sunrisers jerseys, Brandson and Rozniak still display flashes of stick-handling skill reminiscent of youthful days gone by with a few nifty give-and-goes.
“Once in a while, even at my age, you make that good play and you think ‘that’s what it’s all about,'” Brandson says. “As you get older, they are fewer and farther between.”
Even while the youngsters, players still in their 50s, squeeze past the elder along the boards, Brandson produces a rye smile that betrays the genuine emotion for the sport he’s loved for seven decades.
“We’ve had a fair amount of friends who have packed it in over the years, several in their mid 60s, as injuries become a problem. But I’ll play as long as I can.” life