Category Archives: Pucks

Pucks in Snowbanks

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.

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Our fearless leader, organizer and goaltender through many years of summer and winter hockey declared as he came off the ice this past Thursday night after shinny, “I bought 50 pucks at the beginning of the year and now I only have 15 left!  I don’t know where they all went.”

Without missing a beat, someone chirped “Did you check your net?”  Ouch indeed.

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Sponge Pucks

I don’t know what made me think about this but as I was out and about today, enjoying the feel of Christmas in the air, I suddenly had this image of a sponge puck bounce through my brain.  Remember those things?  Damndest device ever made.  They stuck brutally on concrete or asphalt driveways and parking lots so trying to use them in road games was an exercise in futility.  Using them to just take shots on a buddy (which is likely why there were invented since shooting a real puck at a friend without full goalie gear on was like using a hand grenade to get rid of a wasp’s nest – it would work, but felt like overkill) was only marginally better.

If you used a wrist shot, and could control the friction they generated against something other than ice, you could get off a decent shot.  Slapshots were like pushing on a string.  You really had to have a cannon to make it move with a slapshot.   Once airborne, the sponge puck became the ultimate flying weapon.  No one knew where it was going, how it would curve or drop or rise into the wind as if taking off from a carrier deck.  If by chance it was a the proverbial ground ball in the infield, things got even worse.  You pretty much had to wait until it stopped bouncing before playing it again.

However, I do remember playing full games with just such a beast on open air rinks on a winter afternoon.  It had it’s advantages there.  Without shin pads, a real puck usually resulted in a least a few stingers.  It moved better on ice and for the half-equipped goalies, you could lean into it without fear of hurting him.

The ultimate humour in the sponge puck was when it would inevitably get switched for a real one (ie. it got lost in a snowbank, the kid who owned it had to go home, someone was just plain tired of using it, etc.).  In such situations, etiquette (yes, it does exist in hockey) demanded that a warning be issued to the gang that a switch had been made.  However, someone would always forget or not hear the warning and fire off a pass or pull the trigger on a shot assuming they were still playing with blanks causing the rest to dive for cover knowing we had gone back to live ammo.  Ah good times.

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Filed under Driveway hockey, goalies, Pucks, shinny