|After 40 years on the ice, Frank Presecky (left), 75, Jim Miceli (third from left), 72 and Joe Mazzarella (right), 83--who earned the distinction of being the oldest Duffer in history--hang up their skates. Frank's son Mike, (second from left), spoke of the fond memories of their many contributions over the years both on and off the ice while distributing the plaques.|
In 1971*, a rag-tag group of fathers started showing up on Sunday mornings with borrowed equipment and no skating ability. Forty years later, the Duffers have no shame in stealing the puck from their sons and grandsons during their long-standing Friday night games. But, at the end of the day, it’s all about family for these fun loving, hockey playing guys.
That year, Jim Miceli, Tom Kowalkowski, Greg Lopatka and Frank Presecky met while watching their sons play youth hockey at the Downers Grove Ice Arena.
“We kept talking about playing ourselves while watching our kids have fun playing hockey,” said Miceli, who’s referred to as ‘The King” since he started the team. “That’s it. We’re through talking about it. I rented a block of ice time and said let’s go.”
The Duffers were born.
“In the beginning, Lopatka used his son’s adjustable helmet and a plastic street hockey stick until a referee made him get a wooden stick and Jim Huff used a Green Bay Packer helmet,” according to Miceli of Countryside.
During their first years, the Duffers played organized hockey in men’s leagues but soon realized competitive hockey wasn’t the best idea.
“We got in a fight during every game,” Miceli said. “We had a guy, a real gentleman in his 40’s, was pounding some 18 year-old kid who kept mouthing off to him. We didn’t want to fight, so we just started playing amongst ourselves.”
Almost every Friday night, anywhere from 20 to 30 men ranging in age from 40 to 83 come from all over Will and DuPage counties to play non-competitive hockey at Romeoville’s Canlan Ice Arena. High school sons and daughters of Duffers are welcome to play, but anyone younger is referee for the game. Some of the younger Duffers began as referees.
Duffer rule: What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.
The Feb. 8 skate was symbolic for the oldest Duffer, Joe Mazzarella, of Romeoville, who celebrated his 83rd birthday by lacing up his skates for his last game. Also, Frank Presecky, 75, of Lisle and Miceli, 72, were included in the celebration, since they also retired recently.
“Mazzarella called to ask if I would come out for ‘one last skate’ for his birthday,” Presecky said. “I said for you, Joe, I’ll come out, otherwise I’d be going to bed right about now.”
Prior to the game, Presecky’s son, Mike, of Lombard, distributed plaques to all three retiring Duffers while retiring their numbers. Those wearing white jerseys play against red jerseys.
The opening face-off had Mazzarella flanked by both his sons, Joe, Jr. and Steve, while Terry Nance’s son, Dylan, 11*, of Plainfield, dropped the puck as the referee.
The game itself goes by fast since there is neither checking nor penalties to slow it down. At one point, a slap shot to the goalie’s head knocked him down, but only for a short time.
“You’d get up faster if we held a bottle of Crown Royal over your head,” was heard from the bench.
The Duffers have been on many trips. Here is the group that went to Pittsburgh in 2011 when they played with The Penguin's coaches Dan Bylsma (Far right) and Tony Granato (Kneeling far right).
Duffer rule: The older we get, the better we were.
The Duffers have unique scoring rules with meaningful Duffers scoring meaningful and meaningless Duffers scoring meaningless goals.
“We take total age of all of the dues paying Duffers, then determine the meam age which during the past several years is usually about 57 thanks to Papa Joe, but now it will drop,” Presecky said. “A meaningful Duffer is over the mean age while a meaningless Duffer is under.”
Mazzarella took regular shifts leading the white team to a thrilling 3-2 meaningless win, but the meaningful score was a tie 1-1.
It’s not easy to become a Duffer. You must be invited to play by a Duffer, and then play as a guest for a year, after which membership is approved by the Czar.
The first stage of Duffer development is when the young Duffer is lured into a sense of athletic ability.
In 1994, the Duffers added a record five “NYPDs” -- new young polite Duffers -- so the mean age lowered to 40 that year.
The Friday Night skate is not the only game in town for the Duffers. Off the ice, there’s an annual family picnic, early Thanksgiving Turkey Skate, New Year’s Day family skate and Jimmy Buffet concert. Then, the retired Duffers meet every week for lunch, with the lasst week of each month at Tilted Kilt.
Every year, they take it on the road to a city with a professional hockey team and play on their rink at least once. Sometimes, they can coerce the head coach into becoming a Duffer for the day.
In 2011, the Duffer’s Hockey Club took a road trip to Pittsburgh, Penn., home of the National Hockey League Penguins. The Duffers white team recruited Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma for their side while assistant coach, Tony Granato, son a Plainfield Duffer, Don Granato, played for the red team.
“We beat the white team who had Dan Bylsma,” Lopatka said. “I remember getting an assist when I flipped a nice saucer pass over Bylsma's stick to Tommy Zagorski who scored.”
The second stage of Duffer development is when the need to pass is to avoid being run down.
“Our sons come on road trips when they can, but it’s a damn shame when they do, because it just means we have to behave ourselves,” Presecky said.
“Speak for yourself,” Miceli said.
Lopatka remembers their trip to Lake Placid in 1982 since he had just turned 40 and thought, “I was getting too old to play this game that I just learned to love.”
“Our first game was on the Olympic Rink where the ‘Miracle on Ice’ took place just two years before,” Lopatka said. “When we went out for warm-ups, we looked up at the scoreboard and it read Duff vs. God. That didn't help our confidence.”
When asked which road trip was their favorite, Joe Jr. and Steve Mazzarella quickly and unanimously said the San Jose road trip in 1998.
“It’s our most memorable, because my dad, at age 68, scored on the first two plays of the game to lead us 2-0,” Nick said.
“It was unbelievable, so I’m glad I was there to see it,” Joe Jr. said.
But, not all the trips were remembered for good times. The 1985 trip to Reno, Nevada started out rocky when the team arrived at the airport early on Friday for a flight that left on Thursday.
Duffer rule: a true Duffer never complains about his assigned nickname lest he will get another, perhaps worse.
When Plainfield resident Bill Louis first entered the Duffers team locker room to lace up, he made the mistake of saying, “By the way, my name is Bill.” Louis is now known as “By the way, Bill.” And Duffer nicknames stick for a very long time. Mazzarella is “Papa Joe” for obvious reasons.
“Knarf” Presecky is Frank backwards. Brian Opalka, of Lockport, became ‘The Brain” due to a misspelling of his name. Bruce “Disco Bear” Schmitz danced his way to a name at a New Year's Eve party. Tim “Drano” Staats is a plumber with a teaching degree.
Duffers host their own annual awards. The Klinger Krash Award is named after Bill Giffune of Lisle, who crashes several times a game. “In 2001, I broke my skate, so I attached it to a mahogany plaque,” Lopatka said. “Ken Barczynski became the first Duffer to win the Klinger Krash Award for his triple flip.”
Then, there’s the meaningless Duffer trophy that goes to a Duffer who has not been honored in the past.
After every game, the guys meet in the locker rooms to share memories that somehow get better each time and have a beer or two to get over their hockey problem.
“It’s pretty cool,” Jacob Richard, 19, Romeoville, said while watching the Duffers skate. “It’s never too late to learn.”
The final Duffer rule: We know we are not going to get better. The best we can hope for is a momentary flash of brilliance.
*I made a few corrections, I made Papa Joe 68 when we first went to San Jose in 1998. I also added 2 years to Dylan's age, he was insulted when he was listed as a 9 year old. I changed Medium age to Mean age. The final exam for Statistics 101 always asks you to find Mean (Average), Medium (Middle) and Mode (Most frequent) We use the Mean Age to determine the Meaningful Age.