When NHLers retire, the last thing most of them do is play more organized hockey than ever before. But that's exactly what Jimmy Mann does.
Mann, a first round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1979, organizes the Oldtimers' Hockey Challenge. This group of former NHLers travel all across Canada taking on local beer league teams, and rarely lose. In a recent stretch the team traveled from Fort St. John to Medicine Hat to Kitimat in less than 72 hours! Then they headed to Newfoundland with only one week's rest.
Mann suspects he's played in over 1000 old timer games, mostly in Canada as well as the US and Russia. In addition to playing Mann arranges for travel and hotel accommodations, as well as media and publicity events. Proceeds from each game go to a local charity.
Some of the regulars on the tour include Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Tiger Williams, Lanny McDonald and Bobby Hull. Due to family and business commitments, most players play some but not all games. Mann not only organizes the games, but participates in almost all of them.
"I really enjoy this," says Mann, who was born in Montreal. "I'm raising money for a good cause, I get to give a little back to society and its good to see guys like Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne play."
"I really enjoy playing smaller rinks - there's less ice to cover and for a 40 year old, that's perfect!" jokes Mann.
Mann's Oldtimers like to joke around on the ice too. In one Harlem Globetrotter-like moment, two of the oldtimers will act like they are upset at each other, and start squirting each other with water bottles. Then one will go into the bench and come out with a bucket of water, and chase the other around the rink. He'll finally catch up to his enemy just as they go by the local team's bench and of course misses his teammate, and instead soaks the unlucky local saps.
Mann of course was a big, scrappy right winger for parts of 10 NHL seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques and Pittsburgh Penguins. He quickly earned his reputation as a ruffian, earning a league leading 287 PIM in his rookie season of 1979-80. He was actually a goal scorer in junior hockey but once he got the NHL he was quickly labeled as a goon. Injuries hampered Mann throughout his career, as did the erosion of his puck skills due to lack of use in such areas. He was big, slow and a poor puckhandler. In 293 games he only scored 10 goals and 30 points.
While Mann enjoyed his 10 years in the NHL, he still loves to play hockey. If the Oldtimers Hockey Challenge ever comes to your town, be sure to check it out. Also check out their website at http://www.oldtimershockey.com/