Category Archives: dads

A Man and his Son, A Man and his Father, and Me

I skated today for the first time in 9 weeks on this cold bright January morning.  I headed off to Vic park early, knowing the rink would be mostly mine, which is for the best as i know I’m in no shape to actually skate with others around me yet.  I took my stick and couple of pucks and felt a tiny surge of excitement to see how I felt.   There was a young man on the ice already, with his son, a boy of 5 or 6.  I skated at one end of the massive sheet, they at the other.  At one point my puck danced away and the boy was only too happy to dart over and pass it back to me.   I grinned and gave him a hearty thank you and he flashed a big smile and skated away in a burst.  There were days not so long ago where my son and daughters skated alongside with me here when they were his age.  And I remember being that small once and skating with my own father at the open air rinks in Peterborough – Bonnerworth, the Trent canal, Hillside street park.  Good memories all.

I was in my element again and it felt good.  A clean sheet of ice is the most creative thing I’ve ever known.  Turn left, turn right, quick steps to full speed, glide, turn, stick handle or let the puck do the work.  In my later years, I’ve never played the game in a way where my movements are planned.  It’s one of the beautiful parts of playing for fun, of shinny.  It’s movement guided by some primal, instinctive compass, long since obsolete now that we don’t have to outrun woolly mammoths and such.   Bobby Orr has suggested more than once that we are systemically removing the creativity of generation after generation of hockey players in favour of structure and systems.  I couldn’t agree more.

Handling the puck was magical.  My hands were fine and little strength was needed for the simple maneuvers I tried.  The burden of an injured shoulder hasn’t stolen that gem.  I was able to pass the puck off the frozen boards back to myself, and able to fire the puck smoothly along the ice at the net.  Ah, the clank of the puck hitting a pipe net at an open air rink.  A different type of pipe organ, but beautiful music indeed.

Sadly, it didn’t take long for the instinctive side of me to get overruled by my mind flashing a mental “careful” sign as I approached anything beyond the slowest speed I know.  The thinking part of the brain telling the rest of me this was premature and foolish.  A fall on to my gimpy wing would be a very bad thing.   This will be the part of playing I will miss the most if my shoulder always requires an element of caution from this point forward if at some point I am able to play again.  I may not be young anymore, but the rink is the only place in my life where I have done anything with any measure of abandon.  I was never a physical player, being not strong enough for that game, but I rarely backed away from going to the puck, or taking it to the net regardless of the opponent, and I was always happy to try the impossible pass, or slide through the slightest of lanes between players

In all, I skated only 10 minutes.  The weight of the puck on the stick for just that length of time began to play a different kind of music in my shoulder very quickly.  Pain on the end of the clavicle as it pushed up unrestricted into the muscle on the top of the shoulder. I picked up my puck and head back to the car, hopped in and started to remove my skates.  As I did so, a man about the same age as the one with the young son already on the rink walked by with an older man by his side who was obviously his father.  Skates on sticks over shoulders, toques on heads, they headed to the sheet I had just left.

I have been the young boy, and I have been the young father.  Shoulder be damned, I will be the old man in skates and toque yet.

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New Stick, Old Stick

I finally got my new stick ready this weekend but I’m worried.  I had to borrow a neighbour’s hacksaw to cut it down a few inches but when I compared it to my old wand, the curve on the new one just doesn’t seem quite right, the way it did in the store.  The toe curves a bit more than I thought and seems to curl under a bit more than I like.  Maybe it grew this curve out of spite from being forced to sit in the front hall un-used the past three weeks?

I officially put the old stick, a yellow Easton, down after I got the new one all taped up.  It was pretty beat up and gettin’ long in the tooth.  Old yeller’ I guess you could call it.

There was no back o’ the woodshed involved here though.  No, in my case, putting down a stick means relegating it to the corner of the garage where my old sticks go when they hit their end of life.  It’ll stay there for a year or two and then finally get taken to the landfill some Saturday in May when it’s clear to me I’m never going to wish I had kept it in the event I need to press an old stick into emergency action for any reason.

Old sticks get treated a little differently than they did in days gone by.  Built with all these new-fangled fancy materials in lieu of wood, they don’t easily go through the power saw and end up as one-foot lengths that get fed into the fireplace as they did when I was a boy.

I can remember my dad more than once grabbing broken sticks out of the bins as we left the arena after a game which he would then cut up and use in the fireplace.  They were hardwood so didn’t work too well as kindling but they did burn nicely once the fire was going.  If you’ve never warmed yourself after a game by the flames fueled by an old Sherwood 5030 being cremated, you’ve never really lived.

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High Points

I’ve had a million moments of joy playing hockey.   My memories in this emotional horn of plenty range from my earliest days of having a stick in my hand until present day.  My dad claims it started even before that when I was three weeks old.  He said that on a particular Saturday night, my mom was out and I was being fussy enough that he couldn’t settle me down in my room.  He finally decided that if he couldn’t make me go to sleep there, there was no point in him missing the game so he took me to the basement rec room where Hockey Night in Canada beckoned and lo and behold, I settled right down.

From that point on, and every day since, there have been some pretty dandy hockey days.  As Badger Bob used to say every day: “it’s a great day for hockey.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Having said that, in one’s life, there are always moments that stand out, some for no particular reason, some for obvious reasons.  In my hockey life, here’s a few moments where I went to sleep at night a pretty happy camper.

  • watching (and coaching) as my son scored the winning goal in the championship game at the buzzer in the first overtime in his 3rd year of play.  We had a face-off just outside our zone, right in front of our bench, with 8 seconds left on the clock in the first overtime.  He poked the puck straight ahead off the draw went right between both defencemen and beat their goalie with a wrister as the buzzer went.   It doesn’t get better than that.  My dad was there to see it.  An awesome day.
  • in the dressing room after winning COSSA in grade 11.  We won the title at home in Peterborough. It was a 3 game round-robin and we had to win or tie the third game to advance. Our high school had been let out to watch the game and we were so excited that before the game our coach, Dave Bowen, kept saying “you have to play with your head, not your heart.  Keep the adrenalin in check”.  It was one of the rare times I experienced a game with the arena packed with fans.  It was one of the Kinsmen rinks that really didn’t have much in the way of seats for fans, just some benches on each side of the ice.  There was probably 500-1000 people there and when our line scored early, the roar was huge.  What a rush.  I think we tied the game but that was enough.  OFSAA was up next and I remember the pure adrenalin of having won COSSA and us screaming and chanting in the room afterwards.
  • the day my dad signed me up for hockey for the first time.  I can remember dancing around the kitchen so excited
  • every game where Darren Howe, our leader on the Grand River League Mutual Life team, chirped his own guys with one-liners that were the envy of every comedian the world over.  He was one funny dude
  • coming up just short in a one-day tournament in Norwood in which our St. Anne’s team was entered where we had played a team from Markham.  They were dressed up like an NHL team and had about 51 players.   I remember looking at them in the warm-up and being intimidated and thinking we were going to get eaten like kittens.  We didn’t.  We really played hard.  We were down 3-0 at one point but had hit goal posts, cross bars and were very frustrated.  We got one late in the second and then scored again with less than a buck to play to make it 3-2 and forced them to hang on.  We played awesome, probably way over our heads but man was it fun to claw our way back into it late.
  • Eating dinner at Yorkdale mall in grade 10 and 11 with my St. Pete’s teammates when we were staying at the Holiday Inn nearby while taking part in the Father David Bauer tournament in Rexdale.  They lost money on the buffet those days I’m pretty sure.
  • the bus ride home from Ottawa in high school after COSSA in grade 10 where we had advanced to OFSAA.  It was a Friday and there was a high school dance that night.  Wine women and song were the spoils ahead even though most of us were too young / timid to drink much, most of the women went to the older guys who were better players.  We could dream though and the tunes on the bus and at the dance made a good time better.
  • the day my son scored his first goal
  • the day I scored my first goal, at the same age (8) that my son was when he scored his
  • my first game back after a 6 week layoff in grade 11 after injuring my foot.  I scored a hat trick and we won.  I was a role player and not only missed playing while I was hurt but really didn’t want to lose my spot on the team.  It was wonderful.  I didn’t really have a remarkable game but things just fell into place that game and as the saying goes, they all count.  I went home very happy that night.
  • watching Paul De Marchi have a ridiculous game in net against Campbellford in a tournament in Keene in our mid teens as part of one of our St. Anne’s teams with Ed and Brian at the helm.  He was a great goalie who always played his best in key games.  This was the either the tournament championship or consolation final but we got absolutely outplayed the entire game.  We were a bit older and so if we had lost it wouldn’t have been as disappointing as if we had been 9 or 10 years old.  However, we somehow scored two early and won the game 3-2 but but he stopped so many shots, and made so many ridiculous saves that I remember us joking with him during stoppages in play that he needed to play a little harder.

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Warm Rink, Cold Rink

I visited my dad this weekend and there is always some wonderful old hockey stories offered up during such visits.  This time was no exception.

He told me about the old Keene arena that had wooden boards and on winter nights where they had games that drew decent crowds, the inside of the arena would get warmer than was healthy for the ice which he thinks had either no ice plant or a weak one.  Anyway, on such nights they would open the windows to keep it cold inside to maintain the quality of the ice.

Can you actually picture this?  Being at a hockey game in a cold arena on a January night with the windows to the arena left open?   That’s cold baby!

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The Blowtorch and It’s Place in the Game

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.

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Dave Dryden

dave dryden

dave dryden

Any old-school, hockey-loving Canuck worth his Tackaberries knows Ken Dryden, the storied Canadian / Canadien hero goalie with more Connie Smythe hardware and Stanley Cup rings than “Carter has pills” as my father-in-law would say.  (Not sure who Carter was but he’s quoted often at the in-laws; however I digress).   A lesser known fact is that Ken had an older brother who was a pretty fair goalie himself.  More of a journeyman in that he played on several NHL teams and didn’t end up with as much hardware as his sibling protege but a good man to be sure.

And I know this first hand because his son Greg and I ended up at Uni together and lived as roommates in a student ghetto house in Kingston for a couple of years in the early 80’s.   As scary-smart as anyone I’ve ever met, Greg is / was a great guy.   He didn’t play hockey, which unfortunately we Peterborough guys razzed him unfairly about but it was serendipitous to learn when I got to know Greg that after his Dad had hung up his NHL / WHL skates, he landed in Peterborough for a stint as the Pete’s coach.

Earlier, Dave Dryden played pro for 18 years in both the NHL and the WHA and won the WHA award as the league’s top goalie and the Gordie Howe award as League MVP in 1979.  Not bad at all.   On the slightly more negative side of the trivia equation, he also was the goalie who gave up Gretzky’s first professional goal in 1979.

Alas, every man has a dark side and this picture proves in the case of Dave Dryden, his may have been the barber he visited.

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A Hockey Player’s Christmas List

From a purely hockey perspective, here are some gifts I would love to get, in no particular order:

  1. Two tickets to a Bruins game in Orr’s rookie season
  2. A chance to watch Gordie Howe  shooting at the head of any guy who dared to try and block his shots.  (Apparently he did this)
  3. A chance to play shinny with Gretzky on his back yard rink when we was 10
  4. A video clip of my dad playing hockey on Boiler’s Creek (on what was then the outskirts of Peterborough) in early winter with his buddies, when he was in his late teens, and had hiked in from the farm on a Sunday afternoon after his chores were done
  5. A stick handling lesson from Gilbert Perrault
  6. A chance to play the OFSSA semi-final game in 1981 over again
  7. A brand new one of those old wooden Koho 201’s with the 5 blue stripes near the bottom of the shaft.   A stick for the ages.
  8. One night of NHL play where the goalies all have to wear throw-back equiment (1980’s throwback)…and just so any goalies don’t get all lathered up about this, we’ll make it fair and make all the Stamkos’s and Ovechkin’s use those Koho 201’s with the blue stripes
  9. The chance to play one game in the NHL as Sydney Crosby’s winger

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Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be hockey players

The stage was set and the play was something familiar for this part of the world: Saturday night hockey.  It was late in the third game of the round robin of my son’s house league midget tournament this weekend in London and with the good guys leading 3-2 with a minute to go, the game seemed in the bag.  We had a five on three powerplay so it looked like we should be able to close this one out.  The game meant nothing to either team as both had already been eliminated from moving on to play on Sunday.   For the next 30 seconds or so, we moved the puck around their end and played things as we should.  Nothing fancy, no need to have four guys jump up for one more goal.

This is about the point in time where things went bad.  One of their better players, a big lad on defence (why are defencemen always big?) grabbed the puck and noticing we were a little tentative, began his rush.   It was around the 20 second mark when he crossed our blue line having already beaten seven of our players (or so it seemed).  Past our last defenceman he went but by then he had very little angle left to do much with so he layed out a weak backhander towards our goalie…and kept coming.

The inevitable collision occurred next.   Followed by the inevitable shot to this intruder by our defenceman (a significantly smaller one I might add but one who was just defending his goalie who had been bowled over).   Sitting up above this fracas in the warm room immediately behind the net were all the parents.   Gasps escaped from some, admonitions of the callous offender by others, bangs to the glass along with exhortations to the refs to do something, SOMETHING, to protect our sons, our country, our civility, and all other good things worth protecting.

Well, I have to tell you, these boys are 15 and 16 years old and I am NOT condoning fighting, not for a minute, but boys will be boys (especially when the game allows it) and it was definitely game on.   I kid you not when I say that within a few seconds of their guy running our goalie, there were four fights in progress.  Four!  How does this happen you ask in a 5 on 3 situation?  Good question.  Not really sure the answer but I think they had either pulled their goalie during their defenceman’s rush, or one of their two penalties had ended, or they sent a guy over the boards, or two guys from our team must have been fighting each other.

My own son was on the ice and claims he had no one to fight.  (The math behind four fights gets even tougher now doesn’t it?).  At 5’3″ and 100+ pounds with his stick fully taped, he proudly suggested afterwards that perhaps no one was willing to take him on….and then with a sheepish grin admitted with those specs, he was quite happy to watch.   Interestingly, we also had one of our guys hop from the bench, engage the enemy for a few seconds and then get back to the bench before refs even noticed.  Smooth.  If these two cases don’t illustrate the fact that some like to fight and some don’t, I don’t know what does.

I actually felt bad for the refs.  How do you break up four fights?   Some of these were pretty big boys.  The players really throwing seemed to be enjoying themselves doing so (as did a few of the Dad’s observing from up above, although most kept these smiles guarded for what appeared to be reasons of marital preservation) and the ones surprised by it all and absorbing the punches seemed glad, and fortunate, to have helmets on.

It all ended in about 30 seconds, with 17 seconds showing on the clock.  Those 17 seconds took 15 minutes to play and at the end there were a bunch of badly shaken parents (more moms than dads by my count but in the name of equality I will note that one mom on our side indicated that the refs could send the other team’s defenceman her way and that she wasn’t scared of him at all precisely because she was a Mom!) who no doubt went home feeling quite discouraged by it all.   However, to be fair, there were a few boys (young and old), and I’m guessing more moms than the aforementioned one, who chuckled when it was all over.

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Backyard Rinks #1

Backyard rinks are a favourite topic of mine.  Almost everyone who has ever played hockey or lived in an area where winter produced temperatures cold enough to have outdoor ice will have stories of their own about them.  This is my first post on this blog about outdoor rinks but it won’t likely be my last.

The picture below is of the backyard rink we had at our house when I was a kid.   This rink was a beauty that my Dad first built when I was probably 12 or 13.   I tried to find pictures of the first rink we had at a different house many years before but couldn’t find any.   I was a wee lad when we had that rink and it was only a tiny pond compared to this one.  Again, it deserves a post of its own so I’ll write that at some point in the future.

backyard rink

backyard rink

On this rink,you’ll notice the net looks a little odd.  It’s because it was.  Built of 2×4’s and chicken wire, it didn’t even last the winter.  But It took a lot of shots before it fell.    It seems that chicken wire is pretty inflexible and on a cold day, each shot seemed to bust at least one joint.   Add up the shots (and those who’ve seen me shoot know these weren’t even hard shots) and by the end of the winter, it was a net full of holes.

Another wonderful attribute of this rink was that in the far corner (you can see it in the background of this picture), a purple rash would begin to appear in late January and grown into a massive purple blotch by early March as the snow receded.  The culprit – a tree with black cherry-like berries that dropped its berries in the winter.  As the sun grew warmer, these would melt into the ground on the high bank and drain into the ice.    Ice wine anyone?

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Going to your Dad’s Game

When you were a little kid, did you ever go to one of your Dad’s games?   It might have been only pickup hockey or perhaps a shop-league game (as my Dad’s league was called) but I remember the experience of being allowed to go to the rink late at night to watch him play.  This was a rare privilege only bestowed during Christmas break or some other such holiday where I didn’t have to get up for school the next morning for the old guys always played late at night.

Going to such a game was quite a thrill, almost carnaval-like.  Hey, these guys were almost real hockey players!  They skated faster than my buddies, shot way harder than my buddies and they were HUGE with their equipment on.    The goalies always had monstrous pads and their blockers and trappers were massive old brown hunks of leather and tape that looked like they’d been used a long while.

After the game, it got even better if you were allowed to go into the dressing room – until you realized that in that dressing room were a bunch of  stinking, sweaty, ugly old guys.  Guys that swore and yelled at each other and ribbed each other and, did i mention, they really stunk?

Even today, I can remember the funny names from those trips I took to the rink with my dad.    There was someone named Sully (pretty common in every game in Peterborough) who obviously had some dental challenges , a goalie named the Meathead and the organizer was a guy named Tuds.

There was always the question about whether I played hockey too, what position I played and whether I was as good as my old man.   There was always someone who would chime in that I was probably faster than my old man even now, or could shoot harder, and while I was pretty impressed they might think that, I didn’t understand the laughter that seem to be directed at my dad for those comments.

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