George Orwell opined that serious sport “is war minus the shooting”. Given that, you have to love and respect any sport that requires the use of a blowtorch in a non-weapon sense. Now those of you who aren’t schooled in the game may need to loose the hounds of your imagination to conjure up just how the handyman’s flamethrower fits into hockey. Even some of you who are pretty familiar with the game might be scratching your head a bit on this one.
However, make no mistake about it, the blowtorch belongs and is sometimes a key element of a good game even being able to start. You see, for those of my generation (and that is to say a generation where there wasn’t quite as much parental oversight as there is today), fire was as much an avenue of entertainment as are video games and iphones today.
Yes, it was a simpler time when I grew up than it is today. In the absence of themed birthday parties held at venues staffed by strangers who you pay to “do a craft” with your kids, I had parents that were just hip enough to allow me to have some buddies over after school on my birthday. We’d play driveway hockey and then have a chocolate cake made with quarters, nickels and dimes that had been thrown into cake batter. You had to be a bit careful not to swallow a coin but if you did, the risk of choking and dying was muted by the fact that families were generally larger back then and losing one kid in such an accident, while painful, did make more room for everyone else left behind. Good times.
But what does this have to do with fire you ask? Well, I simply needed to set the stage properly because it makes sense that any generation that grew up with metallic hazards in their birthday cakes when they were just wee laddies would be a generation that learned early how to flood their own rinks. I don’t remember my mom ever flooding our rink. (Nor do I remember my wife ever flooding the next generation’s rink in our backyard…but I digress again).
Anyway, for those of you who have ever flooded a backyard rink, one of the banes of your existence was inevitably that the hose faucet outside the house would freeze after each flood. Now I know many of you will pronounce me a rube for not simply having something a little more elaborate to allow the hose to be run from the inside of the house, perhaps through a modified basement window, or from an upstairs bathroom through a sister’s bedroom window. Good ideas both, but in my case, at my parents house and our current abode, we have always simply dragged the hose out of the basement, attached it to the outside tap and then turned it on, hoping like hell water would run.
And in a good winter, one where it’s actually code enough to make a rink, it just so happens that the tap generally is frozen and water would in fact, not run. I’m not sure how old I was when my dad taught me how to use the blowtorch. We moved into that house when I was nine so I think it was pretty shortly thereafter. Open the valve, light the match…no wait, turn the tip away from your body, light the match and “whoomphhhh!” you have fire enough to cut through any ice-clogged tap in no time.
This was pretty fail-safe, even for a young kid, so long as you kept enough focus on where the flame was hitting the pipe. At my parent’s joint, there was tintest under the siding so you had to be a bit careful not to warm that up too much, and if you did, “just throw some snow on it if it starts to glow” or some words to this effect were the advice I got. Our current house is brick so no worries there, although I do remember having the paint on the extended pipe lighting up there for a few minutes one winter a few years back.
Once the torch had unclogged the frozen tap, the water would come gushing out (make sure to get the blow torch out of the way first, which required quick reflexes and good hands) and you’d had have to close the tap temporarily, attach the hose and then open ‘er up again. Then you’re free to have at it with the hand-held Zamboni.
The other use for a blow torch was of course something a little less dangerous since it didn’t really risk burning one’s house down just to get a fresh layer of ice on your backyard paradise. No, the other use was to heat up your stick blade just enough to allow you to bend a bit more curve into it. I honestly don’t know if you can even do this with the newer composite sticks since I suspect they are made of some nuclear alloy that might implode with such treatment, threatening local humanity and that night’s game.
So next time you see some piece of mean-spirited military equipment, temper your fear and anger with the knowledge that it may someday come to a more peaceful use. Perhaps those new F-35’s the Feds are thinking of buying could carpet bomb a Walmart parking lot with water and make a rink in seconds flat. Night vision goggles would be awesome for those players who play on outdoor rinks in parks where there are no lights.