For the past year, floor hockey has helped keep a core group of about 15 other people - most in their 60s and 70s - active on Tuesday mornings at the Gillie Senior Center on the North Side. Senior floor hockey reached Gillie as an offshoot of the Street Jackets, the Blue Jackets affiliate of the National Hockey League's Street Program, which provides street/floor-hockey equipment to children wanting to learn to play the game.
Standing unguarded 15 feet from the goal, Robert Redd had perfect position as the neon-orange "puck" rebounded off a defender and bounced his way.
He cradled the ball with his stick and, barely hesitating, took a shot.
The fluid swing sent the ball barreling past the goaltender and into the back of the net.
"Beautiful, Robert - just beautiful," a teammate said.
"A sleek goal," said another.
Sleek, indeed - especially for a guy who's 76 and undergoing weekly treatments to keep cancer at bay.
"This is good for me," said Redd, a North Side resident. "It keeps me active."
For the past year, floor hockey has helped keep a core group of about 15 other people - most in their 60s and 70s - active on Tuesday mornings at the Gillie Senior Center on the North Side.
Redd's goal marked the first of six - a double hat trick - that he tallied on a recent game day.
"He's our shooter," said teammate Patty Grierson, stating the obvious.
Senior floor hockey reached Gillie as an offshoot of the Street Jackets, the Blue Jackets affiliate of the National Hockey League's Street Program, which provides street/floor-hockey equipment to children wanting to learn to play the game.
Much of the credit goes to Jim Whetstone, the center's recreation leader.
Whetstone persuaded the Blue Jackets to extend the program to an older population.
The Gillie players make up the NHL's only senior floor-hockey team nationwide, as far as Joel Siegman, manager of fan development for the Blue Jackets, can ascertain.
"When I called the NHL to ask them about it, I could hear a pause," Siegman said, "as if they stopped to think, 'Oh, this is a good idea.'"
Whetstone was familiar with the Street Jackets because he introduced the program to the children he used to lead at Woodward Park Recreation Center, on nearby Karl Road.
When he started working at Gillie, he thought: Why not do the same for seniors?
"They've gobbled it up and embraced it," he said. "They're just as passionate as the kids."
Initially, Whetstone taught the group basic skills such as positioning, passing and "puck" handling.
As they improved and learned more about the game, the seniors began splitting up each week for scrimmages. They continue to work on backhands, forehands and other shots.
The team's "rink" - a room more often used for lunches or line dancing - features boundaries formed by eight tables turned on their sides and a stage. A game spans three eight-minute periods.
The rules have been modified to enhance safety. Running and slap shots are prohibited, for example, but Whetstone must regularly remind his players not to do either.
Still, injuries occur - one woman fell and broke a hip, Whetstone said - and some of the players' family members and friends have not-so-lightly cautioned them about the aggressive activity.
"My oldest son has had a fit about it," said Marcia Early, 74, of Bexley. "He tells me: 'You know what happens to old people when they fall? They break their hip and end up in a nursing home.'
"I do it anyway."
The short bursts of energy required to play floor hockey, Early said, don't bother the arthritis in her feet. Plus, the game gives the retired veterinarian a rare chance to let her competitive side shine (unless she counts showing quilts at fairs).
An observer of the action can't miss the group's competitive spirit as the ball flies quickly through the air and the sound of clanging sticks echoes down the hallway.
Whetstone emphasizes that he doesn't keep score.
The seniors, on the other hand, do.
The two teams of five who played two weeks ago updated the score with every goal. And Grierson, a 77-year-old from the Clintonville neighborhood - always a goalie - did a victory twirl after her fivesome won 6-4.
Although Peggy DeWitt plays aggressively, she said the game is all in good fun.
"We get really excited when we score," said the 74-year-old North Side resident, whose grandchildren see her participation as "cool."
"But it's about knowing you can still do something at our age."
The Blue Jackets' Siegman said he attended one scrimmage and couldn't stop smiling.
"Jim (Whetstone) has to hold them back to make sure they don't get hurt, but they're going up and down the rink like 8- and 9-year-olds," Siegman said. "The energy - I just hope I have that much energy when I am that age."
The group recently had a visit from Gov. John Kasich, who had seen a YouTube video of the players demonstrating their skills.
The team has also traveled to promote the Street Jackets program.
Although concern about injuries makes some hesitate, Whetstone said, he would like to introduce floor hockey to other senior centers and eventually form a league.
"We're now looking for game," Whetstone said. "I pity anyone who comes up against us."