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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Lacing up to skate at 88: Hockey-loving B.C. man inspires teammates

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It’s game day in Abbotsford, B.C., and Henry Unger is gearing up for his third game this week.

“Let’s play hockey,” shouts the 88-year-old from the dressing room hallway as the team waits for the Zamboni to clear the ice.

Unger is doing his part to get everybody on his 55-and-over team fired up.

“Is he an inspiration to you younger guys?” teammate Don Tuck was asked. “Ha, I thought I was old when I came here now I’m a young guy now.”

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Unger says he put on his first pair of skates all the way back in 1939.

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“As I remember they cost $3.75,” Unger told Global News.

He remembers he would use magazines for shin guards. He loves to share stories of a simpler time for the sport.

“He says ‘when I started playing hockey it was with homemade sticks and frozen horse crap,’” team goalie Mark Wilkinson said.

“We’re having fun, and we’re getting exercise,” Unger explained from the bench between shifts.

Most people don’t try to make a comeback at age 88.

He actually had to teach himself how to skate again, after taking the last year-and-a-half off.

“I literally had to hold onto the boards so I could turn around and skate backwards,” he said, after finally getting back onto the ice.

Unger is quite a bit older than most of the players, but out on the ice, he’s just one of the guys.

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“When he goes onto the ice, he takes his hearing aids out so we can trash talk him all day long and he just smiles at us,” joked teammate Gary Gogal.

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While he might be an old-timer, Unger still has plenty of skills.

“He may not be blazing up and down, but you do not want to take him for granted, he plays good hockey,” said longtime friend Tom McBratney.

“He checks you pretty hard, he doesn’t give you an inch,” warned teammate Bill Stroomer.

Once in a while, the seas will part and the ice opens up giving Henry a chance for a goal.

“I have to admit that on occasion they give me a little of extra room,” he said.

So how many goals did the 88-year-old manage to slip past the goalie on this particular outing?

“One, but I got three assists,” he said, admitting his stats wouldn’t earn him the league MVP title.

If you were to ask the other players, though, about who would win as the most inspirational player? “Henry!!” his teammates call out, while posing for a picture at centre ice.

Of course, it’s Unger who is right in the middle.

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To contact Jay Durant with a story idea for This is BC, email him details and contact information at thisisbc@globalnews.ca

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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