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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Canada without hockey

Not really. It's Canada without the NHL. As the time approaches where cancellation of the current season becomes more likely you can hear gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among fans. But that's not hockey.

Don't get me wrong. Yes, it is the game and I know that. I'm old enough to remember when the NHL was the original 6. Lying in front of the new 18 inch black & white TV, with my bubble gum cards spread out in front of me. It's Saturday. Hockey Night in Canada. And the players. Mahovlich, Kelly, Keon, Armstrong, Duff, Horton. Toronto, of course, because that was my team. Montreal had the Richard frères, Béliveau, Plante, Geoffrion, Pronovost. And equally as legendary ones among the Bruins, Red Wings, Rangers and Black Hawks.

You are a Canadian kid. You watch hockey on the CBC. But that's not hockey.

Hockey is the kid across the road, Danny, and I in my backyard on the rink my Dad made. Not much of a rink. The ground is uneven and if you're not careful a stray clump of grass will send you flying flat on your face. Sticks, skates and a puck. That's it, no other equipment except maybe hockey socks pulled up over our pant legs. It's the faceoff and both of us go for the puck. It flies up and smacks Danny in the mouth. Blood everywhere, or so it seems. Tears, a quick check by Mom to make sure no stitches are needed and that's it for the night. We'll be back tomorrow.

Hockey is heading for "the cutoff" - a railway excavation down the street that was abandoned before any tracks were laid. In the summer you hunt for tadpoles in the creek that runs at the bottom of its 20 foot sloping sides. But in the winter the creek freezes and where it widens out in a few places there's room for a game. Nets are two stones set about 4 feet apart or someone's gloves. If you have even numbers, everyone plays. If the numbers are odd, someone sits out until it's his turn. The girls watch or skate further away. It is, after all, the 50's.

If all the professional and amateur teams, all the organized leagues, all the kids' leagues were to disappear and all the arenas suddenly close, we would still love hockey. We would still play hockey.

You would find it in the local open-air rinks. In the backyards. In the games of shinny on the farm pond. In the kids playing road hockey where there are no periods, just breaks when someone yells "Car" and the players scatter to the sides of the road to let the interloper pass, only to drift back in its wake and begin again.

That's hockey.

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