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Beer League Journal: Peak Hockey Years and the Steady Decline

In hockey terms, they say that forwards’ peak hockey years are around age 28 and defensemen’s peak years are around 29. Looking at the numbers, 31, my current age, shouldn’t be too far off.

I’m learning that is not the case.

When I was 23-26, what I consider my peak years in the sport, I was never a flashy playmaker. I didn’t score highlight-reel goals every time I was on the ice. However, as a defenseman, I prided myself on my ability to complete long stretch passes and the ability to keep up with — not move faster than — the speedier players in the league (mostly through proper positioning). I also possessed a mean slap shot from the point, which one time led to a goal where the goalie, the referee and myself had no idea where the puck was after I shot it. It turned out that it blistered past the netminder and was stuck sideways between the back bar and the mesh.

That is likely the only time you will read me bragging on myself, by the way. Also, keep in mind, the shooting abilities were mostly on the inline, tile floor and not on the ice rink.

As you can tell, I was never the ringer on the team. I am almost always my team’s captain. Not so much because of my leadership abilities, but because I am one of the few guys willing to put up with collecting money and, when the situation calls for it, shopping for team jerseys. It is always my job to surround myself with talent, and let me be a complementary piece that will factor more in less goals against than more goals for.

I’m starting to show my age, though.

Studies have been conducted on when players in each position reach their peak status and how long they maintain it. Those same studies found the following (courtesy CBC.ca):

Artemi Panarin is currently in his prime age – 25. (Photo by: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

Forwards:

  • Improve more quickly than they decline and typically begin “a significant decline in their early 30s.”
  • Perform within 90 per cent of their peak from 24 to 32 years old.
  • 25 is their most common peak age, with 24-27 very similar.

Defencemen:

  • Improve and decline more slowly than forwards and do so very symmetrically.
  • Perform within 90 per cent of their peak from 24 to 34 years old (two years longer than forwards).
  • 26 is their most common peak age, with 25 and 27 very similar.

To clarify, 31-year-old defensemen, such as myself, should still be performing within 90 percent of their peak years, which is around 29-years-old. 

After not playing ice hockey for a few months (while still playing on my two inline teams), I decided to attend an outdoor drop-in game at the James. J. Eagan Center in Florissant, Mo., on Saturday afternoon. After dressing out with mostly 18- to 21-year-olds, I quickly felt like the veteran, or old guy, in the room. That was the case on the rink, too.

Peak Hockey Years No More

The James J. Eagan outdoor rink — the scene of my Saturday skate

After getting on the rink, I did what we all do: sized up the competition and deciphered who the best players were. It was a quick glance that had two players stand above the rest. Of course, they were both wearing different-colored jerseys than me.

When the game started, the two aforementioned players controlled the play early. I started on the bench, but I watched as it was toe-drag and head-fake galore, as the two combined for what seemed like 20 shots in the first shift. I then decided to take my focus off the two standouts and focuse on my own teammates; most were in their early 20s, with some probably as young as 17 or 18 (one player I chatted with told me he was “between high school and college”).

With the exception of 4-5 guys, I was the oldest on the rink. And my play showed it.

I was poke-checked, intercepted and stick-lifted every time the puck came to my stick. As is the case with most pick-up hockey players, I was usually stuck playing forward, too, so I couldn’t showcase any defensive skill I possess. Not to mention there is little to no body contact in drop-in hockey.

However, as the game progressed, I felt my feet picking up strength through my Bauer Vapor X800 Skates, while my hands got used to the faster ice-hockey pace. I wasn’t gripping the stick as tight and started to feel confident when I would receive the puck. Despite this, I still felt light years behind my teammates.

beer league hockeyThis is something I will continue to do up until the Steinberg Winter Classic, as I attempt to regain confidence on the ice rink. All in all, it was a great skate that returned my mindset to ice hockey. I plan to go again this week at least once and I expect a huge improvement from my Saturday skate.

A rant: why is there always that one guy that doesn’t understand going to the end of the bench and sliding to the front to keep the line-change order the same? It’s a simple concept; players who recently came off go to one end and the fresher players sit at the other end. Every drop-in I attend has the one guy who has to sit in the same spot when he gets on the bench! He simply tried to “remember” who came off before him so he could jump in just before the guy who came off after him. Don’t make it complicated — just follow the direction like everyone else.

My Workout This Week

I’m no Bryce Salvador or Ben Shear, but I do stay in shape and get in some type of workout 4-5 times per week. However, during my training this month, I will be implementing some new workouts to get my body a little more up to speed. Every week, I will discuss one I’ve started doing from the xHockey Performance Academy.

Jump Rope

If my peak hockey years are behind me, my peak jump-rope years are farther gone than fighting in the NHL. This isn’t just like riding a bike — I haven’t jumped rope since at least high school gym class and it showed. I would go about three revolutions tops before either not clearing my head over the rope or getting a foot stuck in it.

After a slew of awful attempts for about 10 minutes, I decided to simply let the rope dangle at my feet as I rotated my hands (as if I were actually jumping rope). I then jumped in place, giving the proper space and timing as my hands and core started to become in sync. It probably looked silly, but I’m in my basement with no mirrors!

After jumping in place for about 15 minutes (a workout in itself!), I was able to get about 3-4 more revolutions when actually jumping rope. After a total of about 35 minutes, I was spent and moved on to some of my regular weight training.

Bryce and Ben discuss the importance of jumping rope here:

What’s Ahead

This week, I have two drop-ins scheduled, as well as two games in my inline leagues. I’ll also likely move on to some plyometric training, while attempting to pick up my jump-rope game … it can’t get much worse.

I’ll also continue to debunk the peak hockey years not dropping off quickly theory.

Until next time.

Beer League Journal

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Jeff Ponder

The author Jeff Ponder

Jeff brings a wealth of hockey retail experience to xHockeyProducts, as well as a vast knowledge of marketing and content development. Jeff is also a former hockey reporter for various media outlets in the St. Louis area and has attended numerous NHL Entry Drafts. He has played hockey since the age of 10.