I don’t know what made me think about this but as I was out and about today, enjoying the feel of Christmas in the air, I suddenly had this image of a sponge puck bounce through my brain. Remember those things? Damndest device ever made. They stuck brutally on concrete or asphalt driveways and parking lots so trying to use them in road games was an exercise in futility. Using them to just take shots on a buddy (which is likely why there were invented since shooting a real puck at a friend without full goalie gear on was like using a hand grenade to get rid of a wasp’s nest – it would work, but felt like overkill) was only marginally better.
If you used a wrist shot, and could control the friction they generated against something other than ice, you could get off a decent shot. Slapshots were like pushing on a string. You really had to have a cannon to make it move with a slapshot. Once airborne, the sponge puck became the ultimate flying weapon. No one knew where it was going, how it would curve or drop or rise into the wind as if taking off from a carrier deck. If by chance it was a the proverbial ground ball in the infield, things got even worse. You pretty much had to wait until it stopped bouncing before playing it again.
However, I do remember playing full games with just such a beast on open air rinks on a winter afternoon. It had it’s advantages there. Without shin pads, a real puck usually resulted in a least a few stingers. It moved better on ice and for the half-equipped goalies, you could lean into it without fear of hurting him.
The ultimate humour in the sponge puck was when it would inevitably get switched for a real one (ie. it got lost in a snowbank, the kid who owned it had to go home, someone was just plain tired of using it, etc.). In such situations, etiquette (yes, it does exist in hockey) demanded that a warning be issued to the gang that a switch had been made. However, someone would always forget or not hear the warning and fire off a pass or pull the trigger on a shot assuming they were still playing with blanks causing the rest to dive for cover knowing we had gone back to live ammo. Ah good times.