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An Olympic Old-Timer's Wisdom

06/07/2016, 10:30am MDT
By Jessi Pierce

Age is just a number for the 2016 USA Hockey Adult Player of the Year

Jim Westby can still give a great play-by-play of the time he scored a Minnesota state high school title-clinching goal in 1955. He can recount stories from his four years playing for the University of Minnesota and the three times he wore USA across his chest. Westby will also be quick to tell you about all of his travels with the Minnesota Old Timers, his current team.

But the 79-year-old is even more excited to tell you where he was when he earned one of his greatest hockey honors to date: 2016 USA Hockey Adult Player of the Year.

“I was at home when USA Hockey called and asked if I’d be willing to come to Colorado,” said Westby, a Roseville, Minn., native. “Of course I said ‘Yes!’ For someone who has been playing as much hockey as I have, it’s a real great honor and a real big surprise.”

Westby, along with U.S. Olympian Shelley Looney, are this year’s USA Hockey adult hockey award winners. Looney will be presented with the 2016 USA Hockey Adult Member of the Year and Westby with Player of the Year at this year’s Annual Congress in Colorado Springs. We caught up with Westby before his trip out west to talk about what the award means to him, and why he continues to play the game.

USA Hockey: First of all, congratulations!

Jim Westby: Thank you – I’m very, very excited. I think I’m still kind of in shock. What a great surprise. I’ve had a lot of hockey in my time, but this is just very exciting.

USA Hockey: You played at the University of Minnesota (1955-57, 1961-63) and suited up for Team USA on two national teams (1959, 1961) and one Olympic team (1964) – how does adult hockey compare to it all?

Westby: The friendship and camaraderie never changes. I just love the friendships I’ve been able to have with all of the players. Plus, thanks to hockey – Olympics and even now – I’ve gotten to see great parts of the world. I’ve been able to travel and see new places and it’s just been a wonderful opportunity to play this game at the levels and for as long as I have.

USA Hockey: How did you end up joining the Minnesota Old Timers?

Westby: It was 2002 and I was playing at Blake Arena (in Minneapolis) and I happened to see an article about the U.S. Senior Olympics in Lake Placid. I got a group together and we went out there and won the whole tournament. We kept playing in that U.S. Senior Olympics for a few years. Then in 2007, I happened to see USA Hockey had an adult tournament in Florida (USA Hockey Adult National Championships) with an Over-60 bracket. I asked all the guys and we all agreed what better place to go play hockey than Florida (laughs). The only disappointment is I wish they played it at the end of January when it’s 20-below here (in Minnesota). We’ve been playing in that tournament for 10 years now.

USA Hockey: And you guys haven’t done too badly in that tournament either…

Westby: It’s certainly fun to show off and win a few championships. Out of the 10 years we have won six titles: Two of them in the Over-60, two of them in the Over-65 and two of them in the Over-70. It’s been kind of exciting for us. I think we’re always kind of the oldest team no matter what group we’re in, but I think we do pretty well against the opponents for that, too.

USA Hockey: How did you guys come up with the name ‘Old Timers’?

Westby: Well we kind of just started calling ourselves Old Timers because, well, we’re old and it’s a good name for us (laughs). It makes sense doesn’t it?

USA Hockey: It is fitting. How often are you guys out on the ice?

Westby: We’re usually playing twice a week year-round, and in the winter we might add a Sunday evening in there, too. I think we get enough ice time, and then we add in a few other tournaments throughout the year, too. Keeps us old guys healthy and fit.

USA Hockey: You’re also the coach and general manager of the team. That has to keep a guy busy. How do you handle wearing so many hockey hats?

Westby: We’ve been playing together for such a long time that, as a coach, all I have to say is when the next line goes out. How do you tell people who are 60 and 70 to play? I just tell them to go out there and have fun. The manager part is just signing us up and collecting money so we can play.

USA Hockey: How long will we see the Westby and Old Timers name out on the ice at tournaments?

Westby: I think everybody (on our team) looks at this guy, Mark Sertich, in Duluth. He’s 94 and he’s still playing. He’s a guy who’s in wonderful shape and I think we look at him and wonder what a neat individual he must be. I think we all want that so I don’t see anyone stopping and quitting anytime soon.

USA Hockey: Advice for the young bucks who want to keep playing into their 70s and beyond?

Westby: I think, No. 1, you have to make sure you’re getting along with your wife and make sure that she likes hockey and understands why you want to play hockey all the time. That makes it much easier (laughs). Otherwise, I say as long as it’s still fun why not keep playing? That’s what it’s all about at any age.  Like they say in life, you’ve got to keep busy. You don’t want to get caught just sitting around. I think most of the guys like keeping busy and like staying in shape. The difference is in your health physically and mentally. I think the fact that we can still play at our age is just neat.

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