By Paul LaVenture, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury ?When Al San Clemente is called “old man” by his ice hockey teammates, he doesn's mind because he knows it's out of respect. And he is old, 88 years old actually. But although he is nearing the age when many people of his generation have slowed down significantly, San Clemente can instead be found at a local ice hockey rink, playing the game he loves, at least twice a week.
A resident of Shrewsbury for a half century, Al San Clemente was born on Aug. 12, 1925, and grew up in Milford, the youngest son of first-generation Italian parents.
From the time he was eight years old, he played pond hockey as there were no rinks in the area. But war, college, and work delayed his return to the rink for decades.
As a teen, he played football for Milford High School and graduated in 1942 at age16. After high school he played semi-pro football for the Milford Trojans and worked at several jobs before joining the Army Air Corps, the predecessor of today's Air Force, during World War II. He went to school for radio and electronics and ultimately participated in a secret training program to learn a new technology – radar.
During the war he spent time in England, France, and Belgium working on electronics and radar. When the war ended, he played football for the Army in Europe.
In 1946, he wrangled a spot on the Nichols College football squad and entered into the academic program the following fall semester. After a couple of games, San Clemente was promoted to first string where he became the defensive captain.? He also played hockey for Nichols.
After graduating from Nichols as valedictorian, he went on to Northeastern University where he graduated second in his class with a law degree. He opened a law practice in Leominster and later joined a large firm in Worcester.
In 1972, he opened a practice on Park Avenue in Worcester with two other lawyers –San Clemente, Italiano, and Conlin. He still holds a license and does small projects that interest him.
But the lure of the rink never left him. At age 42, he started playing hockey in a Fitchburg league with much younger players. He enjoyed it so much he participated for 30 years.
In his early 70s, he met another hockey player, Joe Capillo who wanted San Clemente to play with a group of seniors, the Central Mass. Rusty Blades.
“Somebody said this guy was looking for older players, who are over 60,” San Clemente said.
The group is still going strong with around 60 members. Participants must be at least 60 years old; most are in their 70s. Only two members are in their 80s – San Clemente, at age 88, is the oldest.
The team sometimes plays in tournaments and regularly participates in the Massachusetts Senior Games as part of the Senior Olympics.
In his early days playing with the Rusty Blades, they played at the Horgan Rink in Auburn and didn's pay for ice time. Instead, the seniors worked around the rink in trade.
A few years ago the group moved home ice to the rink on Lake Avenue in Worcester where they play two or three mornings a week.
Recently San Clemente scored two goals in one game from his position as left wing. One was a backhander over the goalie's shoulder and the other was blasted in from the crease.
After morning skate, he and the other “boys” go for coffee where they tease each other unmercifully. Some of the teasing is around his latest vehicle, a 1986 Ford station wagon.
“My hockey stuff goes in and out beautifully. The brochure says it seats six but you could put nine in it,” he said.
Collecting cars is another hobby of San Clemente's.
“I started collecting them in 1957. The first car I bought was a 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster. The next one, the 1940 Packard Custom Darrin, is significant because I took my wife [Sandra] on our first date in it,” he said.
His three children were each brought home from the hospital in his 1958 Rolls Royce. He also owns and works on his 1936 Auburn.
He and his wife will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in August. They have three children and 10 grandchildren. That beautiful family, he noted, is his greatest achievement.
When asked, San Clemente notes that his best advice for young people is to do something first after graduating from high school before going to college. As a result, he said, they will gain maturity and learn how to apply themselves to the task at hand.
And as he shows every time he laces up his skates, as long as you love something, age is just a number, whether you are 18 or 88.