But there he was Friday at University of Pennsylvania's half-century-old Class of 1923 Arena, churning up and down the ice in front of a sellout crowd of 2,000-plus, his first alumni game coming five months after he ended a 17-season NHL career.
Hartnell scored twice in a 5-5 tie between his Philadelphia Flyers Alumni and a team representing the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, one of many initiatives of the Flyers founder and chairman who died in 2016.
"The wheels are nonexistent, and the lungs are bad," Hartnell joked as he left the ice at the end of the first of two periods. "It's amazing how fast you get out of shape, especially skating shape. But it's so much fun to be here, to be in the locker room with some Flyers legends and some teammates I played with here as well."
The action on the ice was a bit of curtain raiser for the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, SN1, TVAS2).
More important was that it served to shine the spotlight on a new agreement that will see Snider Hockey take up residence at the Class of 1923 Arena for its wide-reaching community programs and youth enrichment services, which have touched the lives of hundreds of Philadelphia-area public school children since 2005.
Better still, the deal with the University of Pennsylvania will see Snider Hockey spend $7 million during the next eight months to upgrade the arena, extend rink hours and expand delivery of its wide-reaching programs.
Snider Hockey is joined by the NHL and the Flyers Alumni to bankroll renovations and improvements to the facility.
"What we really want to do is build lives and unite our communities," said Snider Hockey president Scott Tharp, who was mingling with many Flyers greats, sponsors and fans of all ages. "We couldn't be prouder of a night like this. Just to think that the agreement we have with Penn will enable us to have our programs on a prestigious Ivy League campus and take advantage of the campus amenities."
Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O'Ree, the NHL's inspirational diversity ambassador, dropped the puck for the ceremonial face-off and within minutes, players were gliding and/or wheezing up and down the ice. The Flyers Alumni team included brothers Joe and Jim Watson, Danny Briere, Brad Marsh, Andrew Ference and goalie Brian Boucher. Bob "Hound Dog" Kelly, listed on the roster as a forward, coached instead, and Lauren Hart, famous for her rendition of "God Bless America" before Flyers games at Wells Fargo Center, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Flyers icons circulated among fans in the stands, including Bernie Parent, Paul Holmgren, Bill Clement, Reggie Leach and Dave Schultz.
"Every former Flyer is loved in this area, and we try to do as much as we can to help others," Schultz said. "Obviously, the Ed Snider Foundation tops it all off. A lot of times I'll say hi to somebody and I'll think, 'They don't know who I am.' But they do. It's the Flyers organization that's done everything. Mr. Snider did everything.
"Me and the Hound (Kelly) and a few of us say we've been milking this for 40-some years," Schultz joked of the immortality of Flyers players who won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975, the team's only championships since entering the NHL in 1967. "But it really is very special."
Hartnell was a huge hit with the crowd, his famous curls falling from under his helmet and his grin lighting up the arena.
"You never can replace the feeling of a dressing room, and tonight obviously fills that void and makes you miss the game a little more," he said, having begun and ended his NHL career with the Nashville Predators with stops in Philadelphia and Columbus in between. "How often will I play? The sky's the limit, I don't know how many times they do this, but I was excited that they asked me to come and I made the effort to be here tonight (from his home in Columbus)."
For Tharp, the night wasn't about fund-raising (tickets were priced at $10 and $15) as much as it was creating awareness for Snider Hockey and the exciting new chapter at hand.
"The first thing we have to address are a lot of the structural issues, a new roof, new electric switch boxes," he said. "The ice-making plant is actually in pretty good shape. We're going to do a lot of cosmetic dress-up as well.
"And we're going to try to get the smell out of the locker rooms, but we know that'll be back," Tharp said with a laugh. "Tonight, is a perfect example that good things can happen when good people come together. Our (Snider Hockey) kids have seen most of these alumni play because they have been so gracious. They come out and do clinics for our kids. Anything I ask them to come out and do, they're there for us. It's all in honor of Ed Snider."