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Prince George woman keeps active playing goal for hockey teams

As a child in Willow River, Ellie Smith made her goalie pads from plywood and foam, would wear a heavy coat, used her ball glove to protect her hand and hoped for the best..
Ellie Smith, centre, is seen here with her winning 55+ BC Games W60 hockey team that will play at the Canada 55+ Games in Quebec in August.

Growing up in a Willow River family of 10 meant playing hockey in hand-me-down skates on a rink that was a frosty mile-long walk away.

In those days Ellie Smith, 65, made her goalie pads from plywood and foam, would wear a heavy coat, used her ball glove to protect her hand and hoped for the best.

“And we’d all get a hockey stick for Christmas – like in the old days,” Smith laughed. “And that’s when I first decided I liked to play hockey and not only that but be a goalie, too.”

She started playing organized sports only when she was on her own at about 18 years old. Then she played hockey with her softball team in her early 20s and when she started work at Northwood Pulp she played on the corporate team.

She had the proper equipment by then.

During her sporting life, Smith played forward on the women’s team and goal for the men’s team.

“There was a shortage of goalies during those early years so I spared many times, playing two games a night way above my skill level – defence played real hard when I subbed,” Smith recalled modestly.

“I played with a team called the Sundowners who were a group of women who had a softball team in the summer and a hockey team in the winter,” Smith said. “We drew players from all around the area – Quesnel, Williams Lake, Vanderhoof, Fort St. James and even 100 Mile House.”

Smith has seen some high level of play in both hockey and softball, competing at provincials and Western Canadians in both sports.

“I’ve played for the Northwood team for 30 years and still spare for them sometimes,” Smith said.

“I played in the gentlemen’s league, downtown drop in with the city, drop in with the doctors and lucked into the Rusty Nuts about eight years ago.”

Now, as she turns 65, Smith feels her skill level has finally caught up with her teammates as she now plays on the Rusty Nuts hockey team in Prince George that welcomes older players onto the ice who feel like they’ve aged out of the regular hockey league but still love the game.

The Rusty Nuts range in age from 59 to 78 years old.

“I’ve found I’ve gotten better as I age and I now feel like I truly belong,” Smith said. “The Rusty Nuts are really a support group who were there for me when my husband died so they are my friends as well as teammates.”

During the last five years Smith has been involved with the 55+ BC Games in women’s hockey.

She’s often picked up by Lower Mainland teams who need a goalie.

“Last year I was on the winning 60+ division team and will compete at the 55+ Canada Games in Quebec City this August,” Smith said. “Dave Bellamy, Rusty Nuts team organizer, got me started on this trail. I love what the 55+ Games does for those of us who are older that still enjoy our sports. I am very grateful to Dave for giving me these opportunities to still play hockey.”

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