Hockey: The Greatest Game Of All

Introductions

The puck looked like a big, black dinner plate. It was weird. The moment I’d stepped onto the ice that night there was a prickly excitement crawling all over me.

During the pre-game skate I noted the whereabouts of my parents in the crowd. My two older sisters and younger brother would be wandering around and hanging out with friends, but Mom and Dad were seated at the top row near the press-box. Let me correct that; Mom was seated with my baby sister and Dad was standing behind them. He always stood at that railing and I never knew why.

The air was crisp. I went to my small slice of turf in front of the goal and started scratching up the fresh ice. The smell of the place was a unique blend of antifreeze and locker room mold that was somehow comforting.

Our coach’s name was Butch. He had the reputation as a hell-raiser and all around tough-guy on make-do hockey rinks in Wainfleet. In the dressing room pep-talk, he’d been quietly livid. This was our game to win. He had stressed hardnosed and aggressive play all season long, always emphasizing that the crease belonged to the goalie, which was me.

The defensemen had been schooled to take out anyone who ventured into the nearly sacrosanct rectangle. I’d been taught to wield my stick like a hatchet if necessary to discourage would-be violators. It was a lesson learned well and applied often.

In the not too distant future Butch would be killed in an industrial accident at a steel mill in Welland, but on that night, he was leading a collection of young men who mirrored his elbows-up, punch-out style. If the Bruins, sponsored by the Humberstone-Wainfleet Lions Club won, we’d be Bantam-Midget Champions.

Johnny Bower
Johnny Bower
Terry Sawchuk
Terry Sawchuk

Timeframe

It was a Friday in March 1969. Nixon was in the White House, escalating the war in Vietnam while attempting to put the lid on battles raging on the home front. The draft and protests had exploded in 1968, and the chaotic upheaval was ripping a hole in the fabric of society that has never fully healed.

In Canada, the 1968 summer of revolution saw an unprecedented cult of personality called Trudeaumania sweep a charismatic, carnation wearing Pierre from Montreal into the office of Prime Minister. Trudeau would dominate the political scene until the early eighties, leaving an imprint that is still clearly seen.

That night none of the politics or current events mattered. On the ice of the Port Colborne Humberstone Arena on Westside Road, the outside world with all its travails and problems were faraway remnants of some distant realm.

The horn shrieked a short blast that echoed around the cavernous building. The starting five gathered around me for one final bit of yammering encouragement, and then took their positions for the opening face-off.

I adjusted my mask, which was a replica of the one worn by Terry Sawchuk, whose stand-up challenging style I sought to emulate. Sawchuk, along with Johnny Bower were the goaltenders for the Toronto Maple Leafs the last time they’d won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1967. Both were heroes of mine.

The Garme

At the instant the puck dropped to start the game, my parents hollered, and since they were both leather lunged I heard them above the crowd noise. A smile wrinkled up my face, and it was at that moment I realized that the puck appeared to be huge. A one-eyed blind man could follow it.

Of course it wasn’t a big, black dinner plate, but the intensity and anticipation had me in a zone. A sheen of perspiration beneath all the equipment felt like gooseflesh tightening to keep me on edge.

For the first few minutes the game was a back and forth tousle played between the blue-lines. Then suddenly the Rangers put together a three pass breakout and were setting up in our territory. I was crouched low and there was lots of pushing and shoving in front of me, but my eyes were fixed on the puck.

A slap-shot came wailing from the top of the circle. It disappeared behind a body then reappeared and in my eyes it was a slow motion blur. My left hand jabbed out and I watched that big, black plate get swallowed by the glove.

A gasp went around the building like a wave that crested when somebody behind me exclaimed, “Holy sh . . .”

A defenseman hit my leg pads hard with his stick and gave his own holy utterance, which would never be heard in any church-house. A couple other teammates skated over to me.

“Great save, Kid,” the Bruins captain said. I was the youngest player on the team, so the term kid had taken on the weight of a proper name.

I shrugged and flipped the puck to the referee. I seriously did not understand what the big deal was because it hadn’t been that hard of a shot . . . or had it?

The palm of my left hand stung, but I ignored it. Later it’d be a swollen and ugly purple bruise, but the high-octane fuel of adrenaline was flowing, so the tingling sensation amounted to nothing.

That night I could do no wrong. The puck was always a large disc and making saves was a breeze. Most of the game happened on our side of center ice; our team was outplayed and out-muscled. The Rangers had thirty-six shots on goal, while we managed only twenty-two, though that numerical difference was inconsequential.

When the horn blasted its final shriek the scoreboard read: Bruins 2 Rangers 0. It was my first ever shutout, which made winning the championship extra special.

Whether played on the streets...
Whether played on the streets...
Or on the ponds, hockey remains the greatest game of all.
Or on the ponds, hockey remains the greatest game of all.

Conclusion

In my generation we played hockey year round. The game was in our bloodstream. It was ice hockey in the fall and winter, and street hockey the rest of the time. The gang in our neighborhood was always ready for a hastily arranged tournament.

Those marathon epics were full contact affairs. We’d fashion shin guards out of newspapers and magazines. Tape was an essential; any type could be used to fasten the makeshift padding in place.

Even Scotch tape would do in a pinch, but what everyone really wanted was Duct tape. Duct tape was a rare commodity to be employed as barter or blackmail depending on the needs of the moment.

There were many winter Saturdays at a pond called Wilverwild when the skating would begin in the early morning and continue with a shifting cast of teammates until suppertime. Somebody would start a campfire so we could warm up a bit on lulls in the action.

More than once I went home red-faced, hungry and thoroughly exhausted. My feet would be aching sore from being nearly frozen and I’d actually cry, which resulted in a scolding from my mother, but was followed by her gentle, commonsense care.

Baseball was what we played with vigor every summer. Basketball could keep us out of trouble and pick-up games were easy to organize. Football tapped all our instincts for physical brutality and was often contested at the beach. But, for baby boomer Canadians, hockey remains the greatest game of all.

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Comments 32 comments

breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

I loved this hub, Ken. I feel like I was at the game! I rated it up!!


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Thanks, breakfastpop. Glad you enjoyed it.


Hmrjmr1 profile image

Hmrjmr1 6 years ago from Georgia, USA

To a fellow Goalie- Hoooah! I never got to play at the level you did but the focus and intensity was the same, Great Hub! Pushing the green button on this one!


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Hoooah!!! Thanks, man. Much appreciated.


Jim  6 years ago

hey ken,

loved this.. brought back some fine/childhood memories of my own. wow.. perhaps one day, i'll share with u, about my youthful hockey days. great memeories for me..(Chicago Blackhawks; 1967ff..Glenn Hall, Bobby Hall, Stan Makita, Tony "O" etc.....still today, love the game, and all the teams, and players.. for those players today, sure are so much bigger, and stronger and faster than those of yester years, love watching thos awsome God given skills they possess.

hey man, thanks again.. keep that talent of yours, forthcoming, so ones' such as my self, can enjoy it..

respectfully

Jim


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Thanks for your kind & generous words, Jim. And thanks for sharing your memories. The game is still the greatest of all, but it was different back then.


50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

Ken, I was never a sports guy but I remembered playing little league one year on a brand new team and if I remember right we got last pick as we had no standing. We were beaten every game. We never stopped showing up though. This hub brought back memories of coming up in a time where we were inventive kids using what we could garner to make things work, like news paper and tape. I enjoyed the read and wish kids could/would discover how much there is to do outside the house.


vrajavala profile image

vrajavala 6 years ago from Port St. Lucie

hockey is a heck of a game, played best by the Canadians.Nice meeting a true hero.


rkhyclak profile image

rkhyclak 6 years ago from Ohio

Love love loved this! Huge respect for goalies. I played right wing and spent a lot of my time in the box...perhaps I should write about my experience as the only girl in the boys league. Great hub!


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

50 Calliber - Good to see you & thanks for your words. We surely did grow up in a far different time. Maybe not any better, but different.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

vrajavala - Thank you for the visit & comments. Not sure about the "true hero" thing. Blessings to you.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

rkhyclak - Thank you for your encouraging words. Much appreciated. And yes, you ought to write a Hub about your experiences as a girl in an all boy league. I look forward to reading it.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Great hub. I love hockey, a rough and very exciting game but living in FL doesn't allow me to attend games like I did growing up in Cleveland. I am excited about the Winter Olypics.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Thank you, Pamela. I'm looking forward to the Winter Olympics also.


A M Werner profile image

A M Werner 6 years ago from West Allis

Ken, I can completely identify with your love of the game, although my game was and is soccer. Even though I live in Wisconsin, my first real notice of hockey came in 1980 when the USA miracle team won the gold medal at the winter olympics. I also like the glimpse into the politics in Canada in the late 60s, not something American kids hear anything about. Come to think of it, American schools never teach anything about the peaceful and nearest bordering neighbor - definetly a shame. Sounds like there is much for us to learn. Peace.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

AM - Thanks for checking it out. Your comments are good. I grew up thirty miles from Buffalo, so I always got a mix of American & Canadian news. Blessings.


alexandriaruthk profile image

alexandriaruthk 6 years ago from US

nice one, reading this one is refreshing,


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

alexandriaruthk - Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.


mtsi1098 6 years ago

I completely agree - great hub and great sport...


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Thank you, mtsi1098.


Dave Mathews profile image

Dave Mathews 6 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

Ken what a simply marvellous piece of work on "CANADA'S" National sport and favourite pastime. It was a special thrill when I saw "Johnny Bower" poised between the pipes, probably awaiting someone like Richard, or Belliveau,or Makita, to try and slip one by him........Thanks Ken for the look down memory lane.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

You're welcome, Dave. It was one of the easiest pieces of writing I have ever done. Lots of fun. Bower was the master of the poke check. Glade you enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Thank you for sharing comments. Much appreciated.


Mystique1957 profile image

Mystique1957 6 years ago from Caracas-Venezuela

Thank You, Ken! For a guy like me who`s never related to winter sports except on the screen,I got a pretty good idea of what the game is like, the feeling, the emotions!

Nice to learn something new everyday! Good storytelling style!

Thumbs up!

Warm regards,

Mystique


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Mystique - Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. Glad you enjoyed the story. Blessings to you.


TnFlash profile image

TnFlash 6 years ago from Tampa, Florida

Great Story! I was never a Ice Hockey fan until I went to my first live game. It was fast, action packed, and eveybody there had a great time. I have been hooked ever since. Awesome game!


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

TnFlash - Thank you. I have heard that from others. Seeing the fame up close people rapidly become fans.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

Thanks for showing me the greatest story about this sport. I like hockey very much. But I never try it in the real snow. Nice hub. I rated this.


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

prasetio30 - You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading & rating it.


Linda Myshrall 6 years ago

Hi Ken, This was a real nail-biter! I didn't even have to understand the game thoroughly to get caught up in it. I most enjoyed the part about you kids improvising in order to get your games going---boy could I relate to that, and of course the mental picture makes me smile. Well done and thumbs up!


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

Thank you, Linda. I appreciate the encouragement & thumbs up. Glad you enjoyed it. Blessing.


ateenyi profile image

ateenyi 6 years ago from Chicago

Remarkably Wonderful Hub!!!!!!

Overwhelming Game. The whole hub provides huge enjoyment and tremendous fun culminated with excellent information. The information is centrifuged in very coherent manner and presentation is of par excellence.

Keep on Hubbing


Ken R. Abell profile image

Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD Author

ateenyi - Thank you for your kind words. Very much appreciated. Peace & blessings to you.

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