Over-40 overachievers
by Lucas AYKROYD|13 MAY 2024
Even at age 40, Switzerland's Andres Ambuhl (L) and Norway's Patrick Thoresen (R) continue to set records and inspire their teammates.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
When Switzerland downed Norway 5-2 on Day One of the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, one of the most intriguing storylines was seeing two 40-year-old veterans going head-to-head: Andres Ambuhl and Patrick Thoresen.

Ambuhl is playing at his 19th Worlds, an all-time tournament record. The Davos captain’s first Worlds with Switzerland was here in Prague in 2004 at age 20.

Ambuhl assisted on Nino Niederreiter’s third-period power-play goal versus Norway, and then added three more helpers in Sunday's 6-5 victory over Austria, including one on Nico Hischier's late winner. The 176-cm, 86-kg forward also hit 133 career WM games on Sunday, another all-time record.

“It’s impressive to watch,” said Niederreiter. “He’s in his 19th tournament and he still looks like a young guy out there. He plays extremely well with a lot of passion, and he always goes into the battle 100 percent. I think that's what makes him a great leader in the team and obviously a great player on the ice.”

Meanwhile, Thoresen, who was named the Norwegian Player of the Year and captained Storhamar to the title, returned to the Worlds for the first time since 2019. Norway's captain recorded two assists, including one on 18-year-old forward Michael Brandsegg-Nygard’s first Worlds goal. He then set up another 18-year-old, defenceman Stian Solberg, in a 6-3 loss to Czechia.

The grizzled power forward, a tournament all-star in 2012 with 18 points, made his top-level debut in Riga back in 2006 at age 22. However, Thoresen already represented Norway in Division I action two years earlier.

Asked about how he feels about coming back to the Polar Bears, this 10-time Worlds participant said: “I’m very glad! You know, it’s fun to be around these young kids coming up, a new Norwegian generation. Maybe sometime in the future I will work with hockey [after my playing career], so it’s going to be nice to get to know them now as a player. I feel young again when I'm around 18- or 19-year-old kids.”

Bottom line? Don’t believe the stereotypes about guys over 40 – at least in elite international hockey. They can do much more than go fishing and fix their cars, pontificate about how Deep Purple and Pearl Jam are “real music,” and injure their dad bods by bending over to pick up a newspaper.

Other World Championship examples back this up.

Exhibit A is, unsurprisingly, Jaromir Jagr. When Czechia last hosted in 2015, this legendary member of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club (OG 1998, WM 2005 & 2010, SC 1991 & 1992) showed he wasn’t content to rest on his laurels as the NHL’s all-time leading European scorer (1,921 points).

At age 43, Jagr dazzled the record-setting crowds with a team-best six goals. While Czechia finished fourth, he was named tournament MVP in his final IIHF stint.

Czech fans will also recall that forward Petr Nedved – now the national team GM – stepped up in 2012. Incredibly, the veteran of 982 NHL games was making his Worlds debut at age 40. (He hadn’t previously played for Czechia, as he defected from Czechoslovakia prior to the fall of Communism and won his 1994 Olympic silver medal with Canada.)

Nedved totalled three goals and two assists, and the Czechs captured the bronze medal by edging Finland 3-2 in Helsinki. Of note, all of Nedved’s points came on Czechia’s first goal of the game, except his winner when they beat Latvia 3-1.

It’s especially remarkable when a goalie over 40 plays at the Worlds, considering the focus, flexibility, and overall athleticism that the position demands.

France’s Cristobal Huet achieved that feat in both 2016 and 2017. The latter tournament was memorable, as it was the ex-NHLer’s last IIHF appearance at age 41 on home ice in Paris. The partisan fans saluted Huet as he announced his retirement alongside longtime captain Laurent Meunier.

At the 2014 Worlds, U.S. goalie Tim Thomas couldn’t match his NHL form of 2011 when he captured the Vezina, Conn Smythe, and Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins. But the 40-year-old future U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer deserved credit for showing up – with a 3.49 GAA and 86.9 save percentage in eight starts – in his last hockey games on any level. 

Less renowned is Ukraine’s Yuri Shundrov. The longtime Sokil Kyiv netminder never played in the top division until the 1999 Worlds in Norway – when he was 42 years old. Shundrov didn’t dominate headlines with his 5.22 GAA and 83.3 save percentage in two games, but he helped the Ukrainians avoid relegation, kicking off an eight-year run at the Worlds.

Of course, you have to be realistic. We won’t see many World Championship games in which multiple 40-year-olds take part, à la Ambuhl versus Thoresen.

The 2010 Worlds featured a true anomaly when Sergei Fedorov, 40, assisted on his Russian team’s first goal in a 4-1 win over Kazakhstan. That Kazakh lineup included Konstantin Shafranov, 41, who likewise got an assist; captain Alexander Koreshkov, 40; and defender Vladimir Antipin, 40.

This year in Prague, it’s quality over quantity. Ambuhl and Thoresen, the only 40-year-olds competing, both thrive on the love and respect they get from their teammates.

Switzerland's Sven Andrighetto reveres Ambuhl’s consistency: “He’s amazing every year. He doesn’t stop. He plays the same way every single night, every year for the past 20 years. It’s pretty impressive what he does for us.”

Brandsegg-Nygard hailed Thoresen’s captaincy: “He’s a really good leader. He always leads the way on and off the ice and takes control in the locker room too. So it’s really fun and exciting to have him here.”

No midlife crisis here. Just two veteran leaders who continue to contribute at 40 and beyond.