Born In 1937

The Game May Have Changed But The Passion Remains For Those Who Share A Birthday With USA Hockey
By: 
Brian Lester

Norm Dann, who is 78 years young, continues to enjoy playing the game, and the position, that he's played for most of his life.Norm Dann, who is 78 years young, continues to enjoy playing the game, and the position, that he's played for most of his life.

Norm Dann still remembers the first time he was introduced to the game of hockey.

“It was Labor Day weekend. I was 5 years old when my mom signed me up. That was 73 years ago and I’ve stuck with it ever since,” says Dann, a Port Dalhousie, Ontario, native who migrated to Florida’s Gulf Coast in 1956.

Dann was born the same year that the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States was formed in Tom Lockhart’s New York City apartment. The date was Oct. 29, 1937 and to say that the game was much different back then would be a bit of an understatement.

Much of what Dann learned about the game at a young age stemmed from his days on a backyard pond.

“You always knew where everyone was,” Dann says. “And you weren’t allowed to play if you didn’t keep your grades up in school. You wanted to make sure you could play. You were ostracized if you couldn’t.”

John Lloyd is a USA Hockey member also born in 1937 who will begin his 48th year of coaching this season. He never played organized hockey as a child growing up in Wisconsin because  opportunities weren’t nearly as plentiful as they are now. But that didn’t keep him off the ice.

“We played on a pond,” Lloyd recalls. “I did play for a team when I was in the Air Force in Alaska. We had a chance to play teams from Canada. I enjoyed that a lot.”

It was also in Alaska where Lloyd got his start in coaching. It was a moment that caught him a bit by surprise.

“There was an outdoor rink and I was over there watching a youth game,” he says. “A guy came over to me and asked if I would be interested in coaching. I decided ‘why not.’  We won a championship our first year.”

According to a search of the USA Hockey member database there are 12 individuals currently registered who were born in 1937, including a handful of players, a referee and a couple of coaches. There’s also long-time volunteer and former Southeastern District Coach-in-Chief Bob McCaig and director emeritus Jerry Edwards, who was influential in growing the game in his home state of Wisconsin.

John Nuccitelli was another who never played organized hockey growing up in the 1930s, but he discovered his passion for the game on the ponds in upstate New York.

“We only had outdoor rinks,” Nuccitelli says. “Kids don’t realize how lucky they are today with the opportunities they have to play the game.”

Nuccitelli found his niche in the game when his son started playing hockey in the early 1970s. He became a team manager, handling paperwork, scheduling and raising money for the team. He still manages a high school team in Webster, N.Y., as well as an 18 & Under team.

“I’ve always believed that a coach should just have to worry about coaching,” Nuccitelli says. “I’ll handle everything else.”

All three men have seen their share of changes over the years, with each saying the speed and skill in the game are the most noticeable. They also are quick to point out how much USA Hockey has grown as an organization. In fact, Dann has helped organize USA Hockey Adult Nationals in his area.

Dann, who lives north of Tampa in the community of Wesley Chapel, is still lacing up the skates. He’s a goalie, a position he learned at a young age and has stuck with after switching from defenseman five years into his youth hockey career.

Interestingly enough, as he approaches his eighth decade he doesn’t feel much different than he did when he was half that age.

“It’s been a great ride, and I plan on playing for at least another 20 years,” he says.

Dann once dreamed of playing in the NHL but that hope was wiped out by a broken leg suffered while trying keep a player from crashing into the goal. But he did get a taste of NHL life years later when he took part in a preseason conditioning camp for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“The guys were taking it easy on me and I told them to either start shooting harder or I was coming off the ice. Then they started cranking it up,” Dann says.

“Those sticks guys have now are ruthless. The puck comes off them at 100 miles an hour. Still, I had a lot of fun.”

Not only did Dann get a feel for how equipment has impacted the game, but he couldn’t help but notice how much bigger, stronger and faster these players are.

“It’s a much different game now,” he says. “The guys go up and down the ice so fast. The skill level has improved a lot. But you still need heart and mental toughness to succeed. The best players have it.”

Lloyd, who has coached youth and high school hockey, never imagined he would be in coaching as long as he has, but it has become nearly impossible to walk away from it.

“I enjoy being around the kids,” he says. “I love coaching them and seeing them grow and develop as players. That is what keeps me in it.”

Lloyd says he’s also managed to keep his temper in check, for the most part.

“I’ve only lost it a couple of times,” he jokes, adding that his approach to the game has played a big part in his success.

“I have always tried to be fair and motivate the right way to get as much as I can out of the players while still making sure it’s fun for them. Everyone wants to win. But it’s important to have fun, too.”

Nuccitelli, the team manager for the Aquinas Institute, which has established itself as one of the most successful high school programs in New York, winning more than 600 games and two state championships. He is quick to point out that coaching has made a difference in how the game is played as well.

“Obviously, players are a lot stronger and faster, but the coaching is a lot better, too,” Nuccitelli admits. “I know in our area we have a lot of former NHL and Rochester Americans involved in coaching and it’s made a difference in the development of players.”

Nuccitelli could easily be enjoying the retired life and tells himself each year that he’s going to finally walk away. It just never happens.

“For me, as a young 78-year-old, I feel young when I’m with the kids,” he says. “I thought it was the end for me after my second son was done playing, but every year new kids come in and it’s too hard to leave. I love it too much to stop doing it.”

All three can’t imagine their lives if hockey wasn’t a part of it and are thankful for the opportunities the game has given them.

Dann sums it up best when he talked about the bond those involved in the game feel, be it as a player, a coach or a team manager.

“The people I have met in this game have been great and I’ve developed a lot of great relationships in my time,” he says. “I just love the camaraderie that comes with being in hockey. There is no locker room like a hockey locker room. You feel right at home inside it. I can’t say enough about how much I’ve enjoyed being involved with the game.”

Brian Lester is a freelance writer based out of Pensacola, Fla.
Issue: 
2015-10

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