My Family (a long time ago)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Outdoor Hockey

I’m a life-long hockey fan so on New Year’s Day I watched the NHL Winter Classic. For those of you who don’t know what the Winter Classic is, it is a professional hockey game played outdoors, either in a football or baseball stadium. The games have been played in Buffalo, Chicago, Boston and this year’s game was in Pittsburgh. There’s been snow (in Buffalo, of course), cold (Chicago and Boston) and now rain. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the teams involved, but in my opinion this year’s game was the least entertaining of the four.

I usually don’t watch the pregame shows for sporting events as I find them a little a boring, but I have watched the pregame show for the Winter Classic in previous years. If nothing else, they always run a time lapse video of getting the rink ready to play. In a geeky way, I find it very interesting. They also interview players from each team about playing outside and most of them look back to their childhood, reminiscing about simpler times when it was still just a game. Their thoughts and memories brought back a lot of memories for me, too.

Growing up in Massachusetts in the late 60’s and 70’s, spurred on by Bobby Orr and the Big, Bad Bruins, the men in my family were huge hockey fans. We watched hockey, talked about hockey and played hockey. As soon as the ponds froze over, we were there playing hockey. During the week, a group of us would run home from school, grab our skates, sticks, gloves and a puck, and hustle to the closest pond to get in an hour or so of hockey before darkness set in and we reluctantly went home. As far as we were concerned, the game was on and the homework could wait.

The only thing better was the weekends. Me and my brothers had chores to do before we could go out on Saturdays (mine was to wash the kitchen or dining room floor), but then it was off to the ponds. We’d get there by 9:30 or 10:00, skate until about 1:00, go home for a short lunch and then skate until it was too dark to see a foot in front of you. Then, and only then, we’d begrudgingly trudge home, tired and hungry (again). We might have had a few bumps, bruises or nicks, and we were usually numb from the cold, but we were a happy bunch of kids! If we were lucky, the Bruins were on TV that night and we’d watch the game, imagining ourselves out there on the Garden ice.

One of my all-time, favorite memories of those times was when my friend Bruce decided to go to the pond with us. Now Bruce played street hockey with us, but he wasn’t much of an ice hockey player. So Bruce showed up with his stick with a plastic street hockey blade (using a baseball metaphor, Strike One) and since he didn’t have hockey skates yet, put on his figure skates (Strike Two) and went out on the pond. I think it was one of my older brothers who, noticing the plastic street hockey blade, told Bruce that his stick was going to break because it was so cold. Bruce, however, would hear nothing of it. We started the game and the first time someone passed the puck to Bruce, you guessed it, the plastic blade snapped right off his stick (Strike Three, yer out)! After a few minutes of uproarious laughter and some I-told-you-so’s, the game went on, with Bruce borrowing someone’s spare stick.

That was about the biggest problem we faced back then, broken sticks or dull blades. I can see why the pros had that little twinkle in their eyes when they talked about it. I probably have that twinkle right now, too.  

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