Monday, I sat down and watched a sporting event. Of course, like most guys, that isn’t exactly noteworthy, but for me it was newsworthy for a couple of reasons. First, the sport was hockey, and second, it’s probably the only TV hockey game I’ll watch all year.
You see, Canada’s sport has really never been my sport, despite having some Canadian blood coursing through my veins, thanks to my mother’s Nova Scotia birth and early childhood.
The rules, especially ones involving pucks crossing red and blue lines in such a way that some rules transgression called icing results, seem so foreign to me. Combine that with an all-too-often absence of scoring, and this has prevented me from hopping on any hockey bandwagons, even our Columbus Blue Jackets’ wagon, which started to fill up during last month’s long winning streak.
However, the game a couple of days ago, one dubbed the Winter Classic, was different. It was played outside at Bush Stadium in St. Louis between the hometown Blues and my birth city’s Chicago Blackhawks. One of four outdoor games this year, this is the one I chose to watch at a time when most eyes are keenly attuned to gridiron affairs.
I wanted to see the joy on the faces of players who first fell in love with the sport on outdoor frozen ponds in frigid temperatures somewhere in the woods in northern Ontario’s Thunder Bay region. I wanted to see if it would snow. And, I also watched to remember a time long, long ago with my boyhood pal Jim Fry, who loved games more than any single person I ever met in my life for pretty much every one of the 64 years that was his mortal allotment.
Now, Jim did indeed count hockey as an interest, especially following the minor league Fort Wayne Komets by listening on WOWO to the legendary Bob Chase calling the action. And, while it was one of the few extracurriculars he embraced that I didn’t, I loved the games we played along with other childhood pals when there was enough sustained cold to freeze a pond we knew well in the woods we roamed in all four seasons north of my 1500 block Latham Avenue home.
The winters of my childhood featured ponds frozen solidly enough to sustain skating. Nowadays, well, I couldn’t even venture a guess how many years it’s been since I last saw skating on the big pond by Diamond 2 at Faurot Park.
Our hockey games were played with the most rudimentary of accoutrements. We wore tennis shoes, not skates, fortunate for me who has possessed since my youth the absolute weakest pair of ankles anyone has ever been accorded at birth.
Our games were played with branches we found in the woods, ones we always searched for with heightened visual acuity whenever we took to the trails. We scoured the foliage for sturdy ones with the perfect angle on one end that could make contact with a Hellmann’s mayonnaise jar lid that was our puck as we scurried around the ice trying to deposit it into a three-sided box with “Charmin” or “Chef Boyardee” on it, boxes that we’d procured from the trash behind the Pangle’s Master Market past Cole Street off the far east side of Latham.
We worried about no red or blue lines in those wonderfully simplistic times as we chased that jar lid, the first team, which often was just Team Fry and Team Grindrod, to get to five goals got that winter day’s bragging rights.
I can also remember a couple of instances when my fall on the slippery surface broke the ice, and I experienced, in about three feet of water, a shocking full-immersion winter baptism. That led to a very hurried trot home, accompanied by Team Fry, trying to be sympathetic but also trying so unsuccessfully not to laugh.
So each year, when those NHL boys take their game out of those multimillion-dollar palaces and into the cold winter air, I’ll have my once-a-year dance with hockey. When I do, I’ll remember once again a childhood lived so very well. I’ll remember Jim yet again. And, I’ll remember the thrill of finding that perfect branch that would become my hockey stick, one with just the right angle to slap that Hellmann’s lid into a three-sided box emblazoned with the words “Chef Boyardee” back in a time when our play was so wonderfully primitive and cost virtually nothing.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]