Several years back, I guess it’s been seven or eight years now, I picked up hockey. Keep in mind that I was a lifelong basketball player and winters were spent inside of a gymnasium shooting hoops, not on cold sheets of ice.
I believe it all started out when a group of guys needed extra players to skate with (a.k.a. human pylons…you know like the orange ones) convinced me to wake up at 5:00 am and drive to Presque Isle and be ready and on the ice at 6:00 on Saturday morning. I remember it like it was yesterday, “don’t worry Mark it’s just stick and puck, no pads, no checking, no slapshots just a bunch of beginners getting some exercise and some ice time”, Scott assured me. I also remember that those stick and puck sessions lasted only one or two times.
Many of the guys had gear and those that didn’t began acquiring their own. I obtained my first bag of used hockey gear rather fortuitously. While having lunch at a diner in Clair, New Brunswick Canada I engaged in a conversation with the waitress. I may have asked about hockey gear and she mentioned that her nephew had used gear that he would sell. Within five minutes her nephew showed up at the diner with an old worn-out Sherwood hockey bag… full of stuff. For $100 I got a bag, skates, hockey pants, shoulder elbow and shin pads, gloves, jersey and socks. What a deal I thought! What a deal for sure, little did I know then what that old bag of hockey gear had in store for me.
After that first year of pick up hockey or shinny we decided that we should put a team in the Presque Isle gentleman’s hockey league (PIGHL). The A league, the only league which was quite competitive. Oh boy what a disaster that was. Our record was 0–22, we’d lose often times 12-0, 16-3 and on a lucky nite 8-3. Two years of the A league was enough, we decided to start our own league, the B league…this would be for beginner and intermediate players only. This blog post is NOT ABOUT the fact that we won the B league championship three out of the last four years. This is about how much fun we had simply playing hockey, the camaraderie, the locker room bantering, the early Saturday morning skates followed by Tim Hortons for coffee and donuts and of course the beer after games and sometimes even before games!
One of the most impressive things about this “hockey league”is that there is a wide array of talent. We have guys that have played all their lives with a lot of experience and great skill, 20-30 year olds and then there are guys well into their 60’s just starting out. Often times we get some high school players, and that sure speeds up the game.
It surely is about the guys and it’s quite a cast of characters that lace them up 2-3 times a week. On any given night our line’s age might add up to 160–170 years old. You might think that’s a lot of experience but you’re wrong! One thing that my teammates are certainly good at is good-natured ribbing and delivering pointed and potent one-liners.
“Hey JP, I don’t think I should play defense because I can’t skate backwards,” I declared before a game. “What makes you think that you can skate forward!,” quipped JP rather matter of factly.
” Hey Scott, are those new skates?” “Yep” Scott replied. “How How much did you pay for those”? “$400” Scott quickly answered as he struggled to hide his brand new pair of skates. “Yeah!, $400 per skate, those are $800 skates right there guys!!” JP informed the whole locker room. Later in the corner of the dressing room Scott mumbles to me if I thought he paid too much for a pair of skates. “Well Scott those ARE $800 skates and together we got an $8.00 game.”
“Hey Mark!, “you should only pay $5.00 today for the ice.” “Why’s that, isn’t $10.00?” “Yeah but you only skated on half the ice you blue line cherry picker.”
I remember two years ago before our championship game our player/coach/manager/head cheerleader JP began his pregame talk. “Boys, we’ve had fun all year but tonight’s not about fun, this is about winning”! “Now let’s get out there and WIN!!”
In all seriousness though, playing hockey over the last 7-8 years has truly been a blast. This hockey experience is about having some good clean fun, some exercise and very often (now) quite a few competitive games. It has given many of us another opportunity to be kids again, to laugh, joke, to argue and fight, to occasionally score a spectacular goal or make a fantastic pass to a teammate, and sometimes even to an opponent. Playing hockey has given me a new appreciation for how difficult this game really is to play.