In the mid-to late 90’s, I hooked up with some guys in Waterloo who played ball hockey Thursday nights in the winter at 9:00 in the Seagram’s gym, underneath the stands at the football stadium. It was awesome. It was about the same time I had quit playing in the Grand River Sunday night ice hockey league and had joined the WOHL guys in Elmira who also played on Thursday nights at 11:00 PM. I had more jump back then so would play both the 9:00 – 10:30 ball hockey slot then drive to Elmira or St. Jacob’s and play the 11:00 ice game. I was always good and tired on Friday’s.
There were some awesome players in the gym and some were guys who never played ice hockey. Gumby and Frank were legends and could stick handle like no one else. We always had a couple of good tenders, and one guy named Moe was just a hoot to play against because he’d get all wacked out when the net started filling up behind him, which it did on a regular basis.
It was a beating on the shin bones and I think I still have bumps on my shins that were a result of stick chops from those nights. After several years of this, the same group moved to the Moses Springer Arena in the summer and played all year. It was pretty good there for a few years too but that rink seemed to get bigger and bigger and I stopped playing at some point where it started feeling too much like work. Around that same time, I started playing summer ice hockey at the Columbia Ice Fields in Waterloo.
As I drove down the street yesterday, I approached two boys and a girl playing ball hockey on the street a few houses down. They had a net and one was playing goalie and the other two shooting. I could read their lips as they called “Car!” Ah, one of the great battle cries of hockey on the street in a quiet neighbourhood.
Do you remember playing ball hockey way back in the day? I mean way back, prior to the invention of the now ubiquitous orange ball hockey ball. Back then, my memory tells me we most often used a tennis ball. Real pucks were for ice, sponge pucks were no good on any surface and sponge balls bounced hopelessly everywhere.
There were several variations of tennis balls that served our purposes though. There was the completely worn-down version that had no hair left on it. This was ideal because it didn’t bounce much and because it was hairless, didn’t stick as much on pavement and concrete as its hairy brethern.
If you didn’t have one of those (and typically you only did if you played ball hockey since these were no good for tennis), you had to settle for a newer tennis ball and if it came with a fair amount of hair still on it, it meant for one of those sub-par hockey experiences. You made do but it wasn’t a whole lot of fun. It was also made worse if the parking lot or driveway you were playing in happened to be wet. In that situation, the hairy tennis ball would get soaked and every so often, someone would have to yell time-out to step on the ball and squeeze the water out of it. You could tell that was required when the ball was skittering along the ground and water would shoot up as it rotated.
If you happened to be playing net when the game involved a wet tennis ball, even worse. It weighed more, and left big, wet, round muddy water marks on your coat, jersey, pants etc. Take one in the candies and it was time for a goalie switch since the wet ball weighed a lot more and thus carried more pain pay-load than a dry version. Many a garage door would bear the dirty, round ball marks of a hairy wet tennis ball if a kid took shots on his wet driveway.