A freezing winter morning in Burlington, Vermont.
A pond, frozen over by a sheet of smooth, black ice.
This is a scene junior transfer Chris Audi remembers fondly: it’s where he first played hockey as a five-year-old.
“We could see the fish underneath it while skating on top,” Audi said. “It was perfect.”
Even 35 years later, weekend pickup games with his father, brother and friends has kept Audi playing. Now it’s with the Cal Poly logo displayed on his chest and wheels on his skates instead of blades.
The transition from ice to roller hockey makes little difference to the six-foot defenseman.
“I love it, it’s a passion,” Audi said. “I’m planning on playing hockey the rest of my life.”
Audi is one of six new additions to the Cal Poly club roller hockey Division I roster, but he isn’t your typical transfer student.
“How old is this guy?” was the first question sophomore team captain Danny Kumata asked when he met Audi at tryouts.
“Yeah, life is kind of a trip right now,” Audi said with a smile, referring to the fact that most of his peers are about half his age.
At the time his team captain was learning to walk, Audi was beginning his five year career in the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed across Europe as well as in Japan and Guam.
“I did a lot of sightseeing, saw a couple of bars here and there,” Audi said.
Afterwards, he entered an electrical apprenticeship program before enrolling in Cuesta College and transferring to Cal Poly.
Kumata, who is also the roller hockey club president, noticed Audi’s cheerful outlook immediately.
“My vibe of him was this goofy, fun-loving guy who loved to play hockey,” Kumata, who credits Audi as a great locker room presence, said.
Audi has years of skating and shooting under his belt. But that doesn’t mean he’s one to slack off. He’s on the rink at least four times each week, playing for both Cal Poly and a local adult league.
Audi takes the topic of his age lightly. While 45-year-old NHL veteran Jaromir Jagr earned the title “The Ageless Wonder,” Audi’s teammates have given him the simple
“When we go on the road, I relate well to everyone’s parents because they’re closer to my age than the guys on the team are,” he said.
Audi may have hit the 40-year milestone, but when he’s on the rink, those years disappear.
“I don’t feel my age when I’m out there playing. I’m just playing hockey,” Audi said.
Although roller hockey is generally a non-checking sport, that doesn’t stop the students in the Western Collegiate Roller Hockey League’s top division from getting physical.
And Audi is not one to shy away from the rough parts of the game.
“He’s a very physical player. He pushes people around; he’s definitely sort of an enforcer for our team,” freshman defenseman Joe Blakewell said.
As a usual defense partner to Audi, the freshman constantly plays alongside him.
“Chris gets going hard and it gets the rest of us fired up too,” Blakewell said. “We all play a lot harder when he’s out there.”
Audi’s role as a defenseman requires him to constantly battle with the opponent’s offense, serving as a guard between the puck and a goalie. Audi has a clear mentality when approaching the game, instilled in him from decades of experience.
“You gotta grind hard,” Audi said. “That’s hockey. You gotta work hard the whole shift, every shift.”
As one of about 30 students at this year’s tryouts, Audi’s skill and mindset set him apart, earning him a spot on the division I squad.
“I feel like he plays with a chip on his shoulder,” Kumata said. “It’s like he has something to prove, he grinds harder than most, always shows up to practice, always encouraging, always supportive. [He’s] just like a positive force on the team.”
Audi carries the presence of a veteran with half a lifetime of unique experiences. His nickname may be “Dad,” but he doesn’t see himself as an authority over them.
“I have a lot of respect for the guys on the team,” he said. “They’re younger than me, but I see a lot of maturity in them and a lot of drive and dedication.”
He may seem 20 years out of place, but Audi finds comfort in this new environment.
“For the most part, I don’t really think about my age,” Audi said. “I’m playing hockey with my buddies. Everything feels good and normal when I’m playing out there.”