Category Archives: rinks

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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Filed under dads, injuries, memories, rinks, shinny, Sounds, Uncategorized

Ski Week Without Hockey

When I was at Uni, I would come home to Peterborough during ski (reading) week each year.  I remember one particular year where I was looking forward to some R&R and a little hockey and being big time disappointed when a big thaw hit either just as the break arrived or shortly thereafter, washing all the open air rinks into a slushy mess.

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This Isn’t Normal and Why We Are Lucky Here in Canada

At our game last night in Elmira, a teammate who is a well-traveled cat made the comment about how lucky we are to place in such a fine facility.  He travels so much he hasn’t had a chance to play all that regularly over the past few years and he marveled about how nice it was to be home for an extended period and be able to play consistently.  He said it’s truly a wonderful country where there is peace, jobs and recreation like hockey that can still be enjoyed by old blokes like us.

He mentioned that in the Czech Republic, he has a friend who lives in a pretty serious hockey town there and that friend just cannot understand how adults are still playing here.  The rub?  In his town ( a pretty fair sized town), there is only one indoor arena and the ice time goes to the kids.  This guy was incredulous that we have multiple, multi-pad rinks in a single town.

My friend noted that there are few places in the world he has traveled that compare to Canada with respect to the good fortune its citizens enjoy.  “This isn’t normal” was his final comment.

Lucky indeed, yes we are.

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Filed under Canada, rinks, WOHL

Shoveling The Rink

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.


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Several years ago, when the Crowley backyard rink was the centre of family action in the winter months, my youngest flipped a stick upside-down and attempted to control the puck with the end of the stick instead of the blade.  She was imitating a neighbourhood friend who played ringette, but given our rink was always littered with the pucks her brother and I shot endlessly around her (and probably far too close to her on several occasions) instead of rings, she had to make do with the materials at hand.

She promptly dubbed her own game “puckette” and for the next winter or two, enjoyed playing a unique blend of hockey and ringette that could only have been born on an L-shaped family rink alongside a father and brother.

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Begging For Shinny

I snapped this shot on my way to work a couple of days ago in downtown Kitchener.   Classic January morning in Canada – an open air rink, freshly flooded looking for action.

Freshly Flooded

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Things That Matter, Things That Don’t

Brian Burke got fired.  Yawn.  The circle of life and death that is Toronto Maple Leaf hockey continues.

What does matter, and is truly a little bit sad though, is the warm weather hitting southern Ontario over next few days because there are tons of outdoor rinks just nicely established that will  shortly disappear into puddles of water.  Old fashioned winters don’t happy often enough around here any more.


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