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This Duck Once Was a Real Flyer : Ex-NHL Winger Takes a Softer Approach in Amateur League

December 26, 1987|RICH TOSCHES

Playing in the Conejo Valley Adult Hockey Assn. is a relatively cheap proposition. It costs only $55 a month, and while the one-time purchase of equipment can cost as much as $500, many players hold their uniform and battered equipment together with tape.

Yellow masking tape is used to make the numbers on some uniforms. Black electrical tape is wrapped around sticks and skates, and silver duct tape holds the socks and lower-leg pads in place. You get the idea that if you searched the locker rooms in this league, you might find the 18 minutes of Richard Nixon's missing Watergate tape.

In this world, ex-NHL forward Ross Lonsberry stands out. For more than a decade he skated with some of the best hockey players in the world. He flew first-class, stayed in first-class hotels and was buried in the finest and newest equipment the game had to offer.

Things have changed. The one-time NHL standout, who retired six years ago and works for an insurance company in Burbank, doesn't thoroughly dominate games even in this league. He said his desire has diminished since his NHL days. And his weight has, well, migrated.

"When I first moved out here in 1981, after leaving the Kings, I didn't know many people and figured this would be a good way to meet people," Lonsberry said. "I got involved with Wednesday night pickup games and really didn't want to get into a competitive situation in a league. I just wanted some recreation and a reason to have a few beers afterwards.

"But now I'm right in the middle of it. I'm 40 years old now and my conditioning is not what a lot of the younger guys' is. My weight hasn't changed much since my playing days, but, well, the position of it has changed quite a bit. It seems to have moved from my legs and chest to a spot just above my belt buckle. But I do not play at 100%, let's put it that way. There are some pretty good hockey players out here. My skills beat them in some areas, but their conditioning overcomes me in other areas."

Lonsberry now plays for the Ducks. His son, who remembers his glory days with the Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers, snickers.

"I've been a Bruin and a Flyer and a King," Lonsberry said. "And now I'm a Duck. My kid gets a kick out of that."

Lonsberry said he also is constantly aware that in the macho world of hockey, there's always a few guys who would just love to be able to tell their bleary-eyed buddies about the time they decked Ross Lonsberry, NHL star.

"That was and is a very big concern of mine," he said. "I was asked to play in some checking leagues, contact leagues, but I won't have any part of that. I'm concerned some guy will try to prove something against me. Maybe some of the people in this league consider it a challenge to play against me and they try harder and skate faster against me, but that's OK. As long as they don't get physical or try anything cheap. I force myself to stay away from situations where there's a chance of that. It's hard to explain, but I was in the NHL for a long time and I learned how to protect myself. I learned all of the tricks, some of them not so nice. So I have to force myself away from situations where that might come back."

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