Dan Oates has been a hockey player for slightly longer than he’s been in law enforcement and he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Off the ice, he’s Aurora’s Chief of Police, but on skates he’s a gritty, blue-collar defenseman on several recreational ice hockey teams with more than three decades of experience and an unbridled love for the game he discovered on a pond in his native New Jersey.
Back surgery, a broken leg and ankle and an assortment of bumps and bruises over the years haven’t deterred Oates from playing a sport where he’s able to connect with people in his line of work and a variety of others on common ground. We caught up with Oates to discover what hockey means to him and those he plays it with:
[RoyalSlider Error] No post attachments found.
How did you get introduced to ice hockey?
“When I was growing up in North Jersey, there was no organized hockey, only pond hockey. I never had any interest in ice hockey until the sixth grade, when a bunch of friends went down on the pond with sticks and chased the puck around. I joined them and learned to skate by not thinking about my feet when chasing the puck. … When I was newly married and living in Manhattan in my 20s, I joined a recreational adult men’s league that played on the 16th floor of a building near Madison Square Garden — Sky Rink — and I’ve played ever since. I would have been 24 and now I’m 59, so that’s 35 years I’ve played men’s adult hockey. I still try to play three nights a week if I can. I love it.”
What kind of teams do you play with?
“I’m on four different teams right now, so I’m a bit of a nut. … One of my teams is called the Blue Line; we’ve got Sgt. Sean Mitchell, police Officers Chris Lippert, Eric Dortch and Dennis Dempsey and Jeremy Sones, an Aurora fire lieutenant, so there are six of us blue-collar guys on the team and a bunch of other folks. This is my eighth year here and I’ve been playing with them for seven years. I also play on another team with a lot of federal agents, folks from the FBI and ICE, Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshall Service and a bunch of others who play in tournaments together, usually for charity.”
Why do you think hockey appeals to those in law enforcement or in any walk of life?
“I don’t think it has anything to do with your profession; ice hockey basically is played at a sprint. You’re on the ice for a minute and then you’re off. There’s really no time to think, it’s all instinct and reaction. It’s a wonderful game to escape the pressure of life, no matter what profession you are in. It’s a tremendous athletic and mental release. … When you find adults who play adult recreational ice hockey, it’s quite a community and a special kind of association. I remember a good friend of mine, my partner on defense when I was on a team in Ann Arbor (Mich.), died suddenly of a heart attack. It really shook the entire hockey community and there was one of the biggest funerals and wakes I’ve ever been to when he passed away. Hundreds and hundreds of hockey players were there. It’s really a brethren. It’s a special sport in terms of the camaraderie and the sense of team and selflessness it takes to be successful.”
Can you learn about somebody’s personality from how they play the game?
“I’ve learned this playing hockey with police officers for most of my 35 years — I’ve been a cop for 33 years — hockey is a game where hard work makes a difference. I have found it is remarkably true, at three different police departments, that folks who work really hard on the ice work hard at work as well. Work ethic on the ice translates into a solid work ethic off it, so you absolutely can tell an awful lot about the character of an individual by how they play the game.”
What are you like as a player?
“I play defense; I switched to defense a long time ago because I found more enjoyment in it. Probably because I lack the skills to be a great goal scorer, plus I’m old and slow. I’m almost always the oldest person on the ice, but I love it and I dread the day I can no longer play.”
You’re a New Jersey Devils fan, right?
“I grew up a Rangers fan, because New Jersey didn’t have a team. But in 1982, the Colorado Rockies didn’t get the support they needed from the fans, so they moved and I became a charter member of the New Jersey Devils fan club. I’m a proud native of New Jersey and I love the notion that New Jersey has a hockey team. I’ve been a fan from Day One. For years and years they were awful, but now they’ve won three Stanley Cups.”