I went out for a quick walk down the street tonight to drop a letter into the mailbox. A few houses away, on a gorgeous late spring evening, where the leaves were fully out and the temperature was bordering on hot, I spotted a young boy, about as tall as a Corey-Crawford goalie pad hacking away at a ball on the sidewalk. He was shooting it about 20 feet with all his might, to his very pregnant mom who didn’t have the speed of Duncan Keith but looked like she was enjoying herself playing this time of year just the same.
Category Archives: Kids
As I strolled out the dressing room around 5:00 PM yesterday, after a fine late afternoon game of shinny at the recplex, there was a wee lad in the hallway with a stick and an orange ball. He looked like a little brother of one of the slightly older kids who had followed our time slot. He was just rolling that ball back and forth, stickhandling it easily, lazily, almost unconsciously. As I approached him on my way out, he stickhandled the ball and himself out of my way and said not a word as I slid by and thanked him for moving. As I got to the other end of the hall, I looked back and he was still at it.
There’s just something about stickhandling. It’s like waves against the side of a boat on summer day, or rain coming down – it soothes the soul of any hockey player.
My son works with young kids, ages 5- 11 approximately. He came home tonight chuckling because one of the kids asked him if he played hockey. My son replied that he had in years gone by. The youngster then asked “Did you play with the big kids?” to which my son again replied that he had. Being already more than a little impressed his next question was a beauty: “Did you ever get in a punch?”
Ah, the beauty and the beast of the Great White North’s winter season. The cold being the beauty that gives life to the treasured outdoor rink. The beast being the snow, sleet, rain and combinations thereof that transform the act of shoveling the rink to something between a minor annoyance and a heart-attack inducing hell-on-blades (or double-double-hell-on-boots if you’ve ever tried to get traction shoveling snow off a rink in boots).
I remember playing as a kid on outdoor rinks in parks and there would usually be a couple of shovels left at the rink or donated from a nearby neighbour. Sometimes we’d bring one if we knew it was needed. It was the recreational equivalent of a self-service economy. When the rink got snowy enough from just too much skating we would sometimes take the multi-shovel approach and have a bunch of guys lined up to go across the ice in parallel the way multiple plows sometimes clear a multi-lane highway.
This worked great for minor league snow but when mother nature really unloaded, that didn’t cut it. No, for a big snow fall, the ways we normally approached the chore of making the rink skateable again was to clean the snow off just the minimum amount of the ice-pad needed to start a game. When more ice was needed (because more kids showed up), more snow tended to get shoveled only when the newcomers picked up the shovels already warm from those who had gotten their first and already made their ice bones.
Then there was the snow followed by rain followed by cold scenario where the skating surface could only be found after twenty three hours of chipping and hacking one’s way through the tundra for three straight days a little bit at a time. This of course was the ultimate in discouraging and we usually ended up too tired to play by the time we had hacked our way to even the smallest patch of ice. In the event we weren’t too tired, it often ended in a ridiculous game with too many players using a small patch of ice roughly 312 square feet. (Ridiculous, but highly conducive to developing good stick-handling skills.)
There was also the rain followed by snow followed by cold scenario which was the worst of the worst for in this situation, there was no distinct sheet of ice below – just a hard layer of something that had about an inch of ice / snow / cold guck that wasn’t skateable and was really only a semi-level surface on which was required another forty one million gallons of water to build it up to hard ice. This was the closest thing to a rink that was going to die without being skated on ever again – or until a good enough thaw came along to melt most of the top guck into water at which point prayers for a cold snap at just the right point in time were our best plan for hockey on some day soon.
There aren’t many sports where the central piece of sporting equipment goes missing mid-game, especially in pickup / amateur versions of a game. Footballs, volleyballs, soccer balls and basketballs rarely disappear during a game. Horses don’t usually run away during equestrian events and shotputs and javelins don’t get tossed that far.
However in some sports, the central artifact just goes missing and will need to be replaced. Golf has the lost ball. The ball can go into the drink, the woods, the rough or a million other places for most duffers. Baseballs can get hit right out of the park and even lucky fishing lures can get snagged and lost forever in the deep.
Hockey has this element of loss as well. Pucks go up into the stands all the time in arenas. It’s just part of the game. But on this night, when the forecast is for the first snow of the season (a bit late if you ask me but weathermen are no friends of mine given the weeney winters we’ve had lately), I started thinking about how fresh snow introduced a dangerous element to the outdoor game of shinny – the lost puck.
I’ve written about the different things used in place of a real puck (ie. the sponge puck, chunk of ice, floor hockey puck and of course the plain ‘ol ball) but on outdoor ice, in a game with no goalies or little kids, a real puck is always the preferred choice. The challenge with a real puck is that it is hard and heavy and when it goes AWOL, it really goes AWOL. A puck driven hard into a snowbank, either from a shot that missed the net or an errant pass or from someone who purposely wanted to see how deep into the tundra they could shoot a puck, (a CSI-Sudbury episode around snow forensics is forming here) can be a difficult thing to find.
When really drilled, and when the banks are hard, a puck will leave a clean wound in the snow. Good eyes and determination will find this puck every time though. However, if the snow banks are made of the light, powdery stuff that got dumped there from a very recent shovelling, a puck will blow through this stuff and disguise its entrance cleverly. Good eyes are even more important in this scenario.
Conceptually, this shouldn’t be difficult. A puck is black, snow is white. However, the ultimate test if at night. I remember many nights following a puck’s path into a distant snow bank from the farthest place on the ice. A bunch of players were usually doing the same and we’d all gather at the snowbank a few seconds later, a primitive sort of triangulation, to search for it. The funny part is that after about two seconds, the snowbank would be so hacked by the thrashing of sticks that the entry point would be obliterated. The bigger and deeper the snowbank, the more we were compromising the crime scene.
There was usually some kid willing to drop to both knees to be the hero and work like an arctic gopher to dig his / her way into the bank to find it. Sometimes it would be the little kids who weren’t playing. In our backyard rink, when my son and I used to rip them over the net into the neighbour’s yard, we’d send my youngest daughter and her buddy after them calling them our “puck finders”. This got a bit risky when the neighbours got a dog as they were prone to finding the wrong kind of black puck frozen in the snow.
In winters where the ice was good but the snow banks weren’t that high, a puck would often jump the rink’s banks and skitter and roll a good distance. I can remember clearly how this often resembled a stone skipping on water before it sank. Once again, good eyes were the key because you weren’t using the location of the entry point as your recovery strategy, you were relying on being able to follow a track of the puck across the snow. With virgin snow, this track was clear and where it came to a stop, you’d usually find the puck. Where a million kids had trampled the snow in search of other pucks lost since the last snow, this could be trouble.
In a Darwinian sort of evolution, every outdoor rink playing kid learned that you should always carry spare pucks. In today’s antiseptic arena atmosphere, there’s always someone with a bag or bucket of pucks. However, as a kid crawling through a field with guarded skates on, or walking a good distance to play with buddies, carrying more than a few of these was just extra baggage. I remember more than once going home only when the last puck got lost.
Many years ago, one of my older sisters, who at the time had a son playing house-league, professed to me that she realized while watching him how fun hockey was. It made her realize how sad it was that in her younger days, there were no leagues for girls. I felt quite bad at this realization since I’ve reaped so much enjoyment from the game for so many years.