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This Moorhead Man is 82 and Still Playing Hockey Three Times a Week!

*The story you are about to read is from the minds of the people who lived these events and are told as how they remember them. It’s impossible to sum up this man in these pages, but I tried.

The Miracle on Ice, the Lamoureux Twins’ heroics in 2018, TJ Oshie’s shootout goal in Sochi—all iconic moments that hold a great deal of lore to me and other fans of USA hockey. However, perhaps my favorite hockey moment involving the red, white, and blue was when my 82-year-old grandfather, Clayton Mannausau, told me that he would be playing for Team USA in an 80 and over game against the Canadians to honor the 2022 class of inductees to the 80+ Hockey Hall of Fame in Burlington, Ontario.

No, Clayton never played in the NHL. He never played collegiately. He never played junior hockey. And neither did the majority of his very seasoned teammates representing the Stars and Stripes in a two-game series against the 80 and over Canadians.

And while the event came with much less notoriety than the international hockey events we are more familiar with—the Olympics, the IIHF World Championship, and the IIHF World Junior Championship—the athletes’ accomplishments and dedication to the sport, I would argue, equals, if not surpasses, that of our more recognizable international competitors.

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If you see Clayton warming up for a skate, he will almost always do this stretch.

Hockey is a lifelong sport—sort of. The men competing in the tournament that my grandfather was invited to play in are proof of that. However, in order to make it a lifelong years of youth and high school hockey where players are incentivized to play as physically as possible—the bumps, bruises, and injuries remove many from the sport during these years and an even greater number have had enough of it by the time their competitive careers are over. Then, there are the decades of amateur and men’s league play to get through—injuries and burnout claim more here. And then there are the life events—accidents, health issues, and the toll of the largely sedentary lifestyle which comes with the 8-5 desk job. Very few are still playing hockey at this age—even many former NHLers give up the sport entirely long before becoming an octogenarian. These men are a true testament to longevity and their passion for athletics is truly inspiring.

Clayton was not among the inductees to the 2022 class as only Canadian competitors are admitted to the 80+ Hockey Hall of Fame. However, anyone who plays with him in pickup games Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays, will tell you that he would be deserving of such an honor. The 82-year-old defenseman isn’t just putzing around the ice taking up space, he can really skate and play. In fact, Clayton played competitive men’s league hockey through the age of 80… in the 30 and over division.

Now, he only plays at pickup games and tournaments. However, many of the players at the pickup skates are less than half his age.

“We all wonder when he is going to slow down,” Dan Zutz, who has been playing with Clayton since the 70s, said.

“He doesn’t turn it on as much as he used to,” Tom Samuelson, a goalie who has been playing with Clayton since 1988, said. “But when he does, [it’s] hard for anyone to get around him. I saw him, when he was 75, we had that was about 30 years old and very fast, chipped the puck by Clayton and he turned the wrong way. Well, of course, Clayton hauled him down.”

All three of his grandchildren (myself, my brother Rylan, and my sister Olivia) have had the pleasure of playing with and against Clayton. And we have all been stopped, bested, and hauled down at one point or another by the best grandfather that anyone could ask for.

Surely a man who skates that well at that age must’ve gone through a very advanced and rigorous training program as a youth athlete, right?

A Passion Is Born

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From coaching to introducing his love of the game to his grandchildren, to volunteering and helping young kids learn how to skate, Clayton has made a huge impact on many.

Clayton, who grew up in Indus, MN with five siblings, first started skating at the age of 6 on a frozen pond located about half a mile from his childhood home with a pair of hand-me-down skates from his uncle—sized men’s 10. Clayton, now an 82-year-old adult, wears men’s size 5 or 6, depending on the brand.

“My siblings and I would wear our boots inside of our skates and take turns,” Clayton said.

From there, Clayton would spend the winters skating with his family and friends. And eventually, at the age of 12, he started to play pickup games with his friends on the pond.

We will forgive you if you haven’t heard of Indus

Indus is a town located between International Falls and Baudette, MN. As of 2010, the unincorporated community, which closed its post office in 1974, had a population of 463.

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Clayton wears #82, representing his current age.

At this point in his life, hockey was also the sport that would be played during their post-lunch physical education period, preparing them to join the high school team—which played their games at the same outdoor rink.

Two years later, as a freshman in 1954, Clayton, like every other boy in the school of about 70, began playing organized high school hockey—the only organized sport offered at Indus High School at the time.

“I played goalie most of my freshman year,” Clayton said. “And that was the last time I did that. We were a small school. I like to tell people I graduated in the top 14 in my class—there were 14 of us, 7 boys and 7 girls.”

Clayton looks back fondly on those years. For him, the game is about the exercise, the freedom he feels on the ice, and, most of all, the relationships with his teammates. However, if you press him hard enough, there are a few—and I mean only a few—moments of actual gameplay that he will describe as memorable.

One of those came during his senior season with the Indus Trojans in a game against a Roseau team that boasted four future Division I hockey players, three of whom would go on to play for the United States at the international level (Larry Stordahl played for the University of Minnesota and represented the United States in two World Championships and one Olympic Games; Don Ross played in three World Championships, two Olympic Games, won an NCAA National Championship, and was a two-time All-American at UND; and Jim Stordahl played at the University of Minnesota and played in one World Championship). That squad, not surprisingly, would go on to win the state title that year, starting a run of three state titles in four years.

“They beat us like 16-1 and I had the one goal,” Clayton said.

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Clayton (third from the left in the front row) poses with his team that went to New Zealand in 2003.

Post High School

Many people’s athletic careers end after high school, but Clayton knew that his wouldn’t.

“All of our seniors and juniors were very active,” Clayton said. “We formed a team pretty much right after we were done, the Indus Eagles. We played for six to eight years together in amateur games and tournaments.”

During that time, while competing as an amateur squad, Clayton’s Indus team “took consolation at state in Minnesota.” I only put this in quotation marks because I cannot find information on an amateur state tournament in the state. In fact, if you google ‘Indus Minnesota Hockey’ you will find hardly any information on the unincorporated town that still has a co-opted school with Birchdale, MN—though they now send their hockey players to the Lake of the Woods hockey program due to a lack of numbers.

As life progressed, Clayton moved on from the Indus Eagles, got married to his wife Kathy, had three children (Steve, Lisa, and Scott), and attended a community college in Duluth before relocating to Moorhead, MN, where he currently resides.

Those are not small life events. So, I asked the man who had earlier told me that he has skated three to four times a week since his high school career ended whether or not he ever took any time away from the game. “Oh, yes,” he responded. “How long,” I dug deeper. “Excluding the summers when there weren’t any ice sheets, probably three to four months,” Clayton said.

When ice has been available, Clayton has skated three to four times per week for over 68 years.

Knowing that, it’s not surprising that one of the first things Clayron did after moving to Moorhead was start a team, the Metro Merchants—a team that still competes today and whose namesake is used annually for a local charity tournament.

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Clayton (third from left) poses in the front row with the Metro Merchants.

The M&M’s, as they often referred to themselves, started off by playing tournaments in places like Grand Rapids, MN before expanding outward from there. Some of their most notable wins have come at the AARP Senior Hockey Championships in Blaine, MN, where they have claimed multiple first-place finishes.

“Of course when we were down there, Clayton double-dipped,” Samuelson said. “He played on both the 50 and over and 60 and over teams while we were there.”

This is something Clayton still does today, as he is rumored to have played seven games in a weekend tournament this past March.

However, playing a bunch of games stateside is not the only tournament experience he has under his belt. Clayton has traveled much further for the sport he loves, sometimes with the Metro Merchants, sometimes with groups that he hardly knew (including a team out of Portland, the New York Applecore, and the Mild Wild out of northern Minnesota), and sometimes with a mix of the two. His travels include:

  • Austria, twice
  • Russia
  • New Zealand
  • Spain
  • Holland/Germany
  • Most of the major cities in Canada
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A flyer from Clayton’s trip to play in Austria.

His list of travels also includes many trips to Winnipeg to play a group, that he does not believe has a name, that the M&Ms have been playing for over 30 years. It is a beautiful annual event that has spanned generations with players’ children (and grandchildren) now taking part in the games that occur on both sides of the border.

“That’s a special relationship with those folks out of Winnipeg. My favorite thing about hockey is the comradery, period,” Clayton said. “I also like to see different places with the travel part of it.”

“He knows so many people,” said Jim Taylor, who has been skating with Clayton for almost 40 years, said. “We’ve been going to a tournament up in Babbitt, MN for years now and if he ever misses, people want to know why. Usually, it was to watch his granddaughter Olivia skate. She’s kind of the apple of his eye.”

Again, however, there are a few moments of actual hockey that are memorable to Clayton. And perhaps the coolest of those moments came during his travels to Russia in 1993.

The Russia Trip

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The trip was supposed to be a routine men’s league excursion—win some, lose some, but an overall equal competitive playing field for all involved.

There must’ve been some miscommunication somewhere along the line because the organizers of the tournament had turned the tournament, dubbed the Valeri Kharlamov Memorial Tournament, into a “national tournament,” according to Zutz, once they heard that the Americans, whom they assumed was a team of ex-professionals, were coming.

“We started our trip by playing an exhibition in Moscow, which was kind of cool,” Zutz said. “We did well. I think we might’ve beat them even. So we thought this was going to be a fun tournament. It took us a while to get to Saratov, where they were having the tournament. Part of the reason was that the airline found out that we were Americans, and they decided that we should pay more to have our luggage put on that plane. So it took about four or five hours until we took off. We landed at 6 p.m. and our game was at 7 p.m. and there were opening ceremonies. Four of us guys got in a car and made for the opening ceremony and the rest of us had to go right to the rink and start dressing. We got on the ice and the 6-7,000 person stadium was full and the game was being nationally televised. We were all looking at Jon Erickson, who set up the trip for us, like, ‘What in the world did you tell them?'”

One of the things I asked every person in creating this article was, “What kind of a player was my grandpa when he was young?” Lonnie Seager, a long-time hockey friend of my grandpa’s gave me a great description.

“He had very, very good speed. He was always very maneuverable. He was quick and his strength was really good, especially for his stature (Clayton is 5′ 4”). He was never afraid to go into the boards with anybody,” Seager said.

At that tournament, there were two Russian teams that had the majority of the 1980 USSR Olympic team divided among them. In fact, Clayton and Zutz believe that the only players not to play in the tournament were Boris Mikhailov, who was coaching one of the teams; Vladislav Tretiak, who was living in Detroit Lakes and working at the International Hockey Schools as a goalie instructor; and Valeri Kharlamov, whom the tournament was memorializing.

“It’s so hard to pick a favorite trip. They’re all so different,” Clayton said. “But the trip to Russia was pretty special. We lost by a lot most of the games, but it was fun.”

Among his other tournament memories are playing in a tournament in Spain against Francois Lacombe, who scored the first goal in the history of the Quebec Nordiques; playing against Don Awrey, a 15-year NHLer and Stanley Cup champion; and meeting Phil Esposito during a tournament in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

And then, there’s the trip to Burlington, Ontario.

Playing for Team USA

Clayton was excited about his trip to Burlington. However, getting there did not go as smoothly as he would’ve hoped.

“When I put the location into my phone, I made the mistake of accepting the option to avoid toll booths. I like to see more of the country than most people and I don’t mind taking my time, but what I didn’t realize about selecting that option was that what it really meant was that I would be avoiding interstates,” Clayton said. “So, I was on secondary roads all the way there which took me a couple of hours longer. A lot of the secondary roads were probably very scenic, but I was driving at night so I didn’t get to see it. I was traveling on the southern edge of the Great Lakes and that triggered roaming on my phone. That’s $5 per minute. So, by the time I got to Buffalo, New York, I had exceeded my limit and they cut the GPS off. So, I still didn’t have the GPS when I got into Canada. I finally got to Burlington and I had the address of the hotel, but I didn’t know how to get there. So, I pulled into a gas station. One lady offered to help and found the hotel on her phone. She gave me the directions to it, but there were probably 20 turns and the first direction was to take a right on a certain street. I went to one street and there was no name on it, two streets and there was no name on it, three streets—no name on it. So, I came back to the gas station and she was just pulling out of the gas station when she saw me and offered to have me follow her to the hotel. So I got to the hotel that way.”

From there, Clayton got to spend his time “with a lot of really nice people,” attend the 80+ Hockey Hall of Fame induction, and of course, play hockey.

In game one of the two-game series, the Americans lost by a score of 7-1. In game two, the US was bested again, this time by a score of 4-3. But as we know, it’s never about the score for Clayton.

Who scored the lone goal in game one? Clayton did, just like he did against Roseau in 1958.

Clayton isn’t planning on hanging the skates up any time soon. If you were to peek your head inside our local rinks, there’s a good chance you’ll see him flying around, stick in hand, with a smile on his face.

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Written by Brady Drake

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