Peterborough’s annual Snofest High School Hockey Tournament, which I think lives on, was traditionally held around the first week in January. It was part of a winter-carnaval thing the city did and I remember they also had snowmobile races around the track in the fairgrounds outside the Memorial Centre, the High Cathedral of Hockey in Peterborough. Anyway, it was a treat to play in the tourney because we were the host city and playing at the Mem Centre wasn’t something we got to do very often. (The arena is still the home of the Pete’s and has one of the most unusual shapes of any arena I’ve ever played in with almost square corners).
I remember one year (I think I was in grade 11) when our St. Pete’s team made it to the semi-finals where we played East York Collegiate from Toronto. They were a very good team, as were we, but I recall we were hurting a bit and they were a very big team.
Prior to the game, I remember having serious trouble doing up my skates because I had one of those nasty hip pointers, a bruise right on the bone that is so sore when you move the joint, you just don’t wanna move the joint. Bending at the waist to do up one’s skates was pure torture. Anyway, I also had the flu with a screaming sore throat and headache, which didn’t help matters.
Now, as one of the smaller guys who really didn’t like the heavy going when it got really rough, East York wasn’t my idea of a fun team to play against. However, I was no chicken either and played in my share of rough spots over the years and wasn’t one who ever asked a coach to sit me out for any reason. I always wanted to play.
On this day though, with a really sore hip and just feeling really tough in general, I remember asking coach Dave Bowen something about either reducing my ice time or scratching me from the lineup altogether. I remember him very clearly telling me we were missing some guys and I had to play. (Knowing this, perhaps I was a bit chicken and he was calling me on it).
Anyway, my stay of execution was not to be….and this term is fitting because very early in the game, (I cannot remember if it was my first shift or not), the puck came around the boards in our end to me on the right wing. It was the perfect storm. I was too sore and sick to handle any aspect of the play correctly. I got there late, was flat-footed, had my head down (although having my head up wouldn’t have helped) and was about 70 pounds light. Their guy saw all of the above and came in with bomb doors full open. Angels sang, trumpets sounded. He filled me in but good.
I can still feel the hit. I can still hear the hit. Really I can. I’m not sure if I was concussed because I don’t think we checked such things very often back then and I had a good headache before the hit. I went down hard though. The play was stopped and I had to be helped off. It’s really quite funny to me now – I remember getting to the bench, sitting down and just putting my head down slowly, not sure if it might just roll right off. Gawd, I ached. Down the bench, ol’ Mister Bowen looks down to me and says I needed to sit out the next shift. I remember nodding. That’s it. Just a nod.
I played the rest of the game. We lost 2-1. I went home, layed down on the couch, took a lot of aspirin or tylenol or whatever my mom had in the house for pain and flu and just didn’t move. It’s funny what you remember at times like this. I remember my parents went to Saturday night mass and I was home alone, really, really glad not to be moving.
I wasn’t much better on Sunday and I did not go to school on Monday. It was the first day of high school I had missed in three years. I remember Mr. Bowen smiling on Tuesday when I attended his history class asking how I was and acknowledging, with what seemed to me to be genuine surprise, that I really must have been sick.