Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Forwards in Their 40s Few and Far Between

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Forwards in Their 40s Few and Far Between

Article excerpt

The skating ability was still there and even if his hand-eye coordination wasn't what it was in his 20s and it took that extra second to make a play, it was something else that made Dave Keon finally retire from the NHL.

"Going to practice, then traveling and then playing, the enthusiasm to do that was gone," Keon said recently by telephone. "That was definitely the time to pack it in."

The Hall of Famer retired in 1982, shortly after his 42nd birthday. In doing so, he became one of 12 NHL forwards to have played that late in life. Jaromir Jagr, now with the Devils, will make it 13 when he turns 42 on Saturday.

The ageless Gordie Howe played with the Hartford Whalers until he was 52 but only five more played past their 43rd birthday, including the Ducks' Teemu Selanne, who's in his 21st and final NHL season. Meanwhile, three defensemen - Chris Chelios, Doug Harvey and Tim Horton - played past the age of 44, as did five goalies.

But does that mean it's more difficult for a forward to play deeper into his 40s?

"I would venture that one of the factors into that is that a lot of measurement, when it comes to forwards, is offensive numbers," said former Ranger Adam Graves, a longtime teammate of Mark Messier, who played 26 seasons until he was 43, and of Selanne's with the Sharks.

"You can be a Hall of Fame offensive defensemen and, when you become a little slower and lose a step; because of your experience, you can play more positionally, more stay at home," added former Devil and Ranger Bobby Holik, who played with Messier and Jagr. "If you're an offensive forward and that happens, what are you good for?"

Jagr, currently playing in his fifth Olympics for the Czech Republic, has not hinted this will be his last season. Rather, he's repeatedly said he believes he'll still be able to score when he's 50 and has promised to play for his father's hometown team in Kladno to complete his career.

"He's got the desire, he's got the heart for it," said Holik, a fellow Czech who first saw Jagr play when they were both in youth hockey. "There's hundreds of strong guys like him, but you've got to have the mind and the game sense and he's got the skills."

Keon said beyond the desire and skill that has kept Jagr going, his health has been crucial.

"I never really thought of it that way," Keon said when asked if it was more difficult for a forward to play at an advanced hockey age. …

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