By Cam Mather
So, this will be the only time I blather on about playing hockey. Probably. I’ve decided that like a reformed smoker there’s nothing worse than someone who starts playing hockey later in life. I used to listen to Tom Allen who had a show on CBC Radio. He started playing hockey for the first time in his 40’s and he droned on about it incessantly. Tom really, we don’t care, just shut up and play the music.
I last played organized hockey when I was 12, so 40 years ago. I play on my pond every year but that’s not the same. For years I’ve been hearing about the “Happy Hockey” game in our local community. On Tuesday mornings, men and women get together and play hockey at the local arena. I’ve been thinking about joining them, but there was always a book to write, firewood to cut, or some other pressing task that needed to be accomplished, which helped me rationalize not playing.
This year as the winter weather set in I began to think about playing hockey so a few weeks ago Michelle and I went for the free skate that follows Happy Hockey. We got to the arena early so that we could watch Happy Hockey. It looked like a lot of fun and I decided to bite the bullet and give it a whirl. Everyone plays in full equipment but I decided I couldn’t spend more than $50 to outfit myself. So we hit the reuse stores. At a “Bibles for Mission” thrift store in Kingston I found some shoulder pads, elbow pads, shin pads, a wire cage for a helmet and a sweater. Total price was about $15! Then I hit a recycled sports store and got pants, socks, a helmet and gloves that looked like new for a total of $40! It was awesome. If I’d gone to Canadian Tire and bought the cheapest version of each of these items it would have cost me about $400! I already had skates and a stick so I was ready to go.
As Michelle and I stood at the sidelines watching the game in progress, I made the observation that the players looked like they were really doggin’ it and seemed to head back to the bench way too often. I thought ‘what the heck, I can play the whole hour!’ I can easily skate for an hour on our pond or at the arena, so how hard could it be to play hockey for an hour?
Well, after that comment feel free to look up the word “hubris” in the dictionary and you will see my picture. Hubris means extreme pride or arrogance. On my first day at Happy Hockey I was on the ice for no more than 1 ½ minutes and I wanted off. I was completely bagged. Apparently there is something to all of this stopping and starting. I fell down a lot too. My excuse was that I haven’t sharpened my skates in years. When I suggested that I would get them sharpened in time for next week I was reminded by the other players that I’d lose that excuse for falling so often.
Here’s another thing that has changed from hockey playing in my youth. I learned that when you are playing hockey with 50 and 60-year-olds, if you go down and don’t get up quickly enough, play stops and they bring out the stretcher and defibrillator, just in case. This takes all the fun out of falling because you have to get right back up as quickly as possible.
I couldn’t believe how much I looked forward to getting off the ice to catch my breath. I started to think they weren’t going to let me on the bench if I kept coming off so quickly.
Part way through the game I realized that I’m going to need to start wearing a bandana because sweat kept dripping into my eyes … and it’s freezing in the arena! When I was in the change room after the game, I could not believe how wet my shirt was. It’s like I’d been standing in a monsoon rain. I have cut firewood all day and hoed weeds for hours in the noonday sun and never sweat like this.
Luckily our pond finally froze solid without snow on the ice so I could practice here at home this week. One of the most important parts of my practice was just putting my equipment on. I think it took me about half an hour the first time I tried to wear it all at the same time. I learned that in Happy Hockey celebrating goals is frowned upon, so I got my fill of goal scoring on my pond by shooting at a piece of plywood.
After the game each week some of the players head to our local lunch counter for breakfast, so I went along. At one point during the game one of the women on my team had fallen down in a scuffle near the net. Everyone gathered around her to make sure she was okay. At the time I thought they were overreacting, but I was happy to just have a minute to catch my breath. At the lunch counter I realized that Pat, who was sitting beside me, was the person who had gone down. She had more gray hair than me! Later I learned that she plays in a regular competitive women’s league each week as well as on Tuesday mornings. Then she admitted that she was turning 70 this year! What!? I could hardly walk over to restaurant. My legs were all like rubber. I was afraid I was going to fall down when I got up from the table. Man, do I have some work to do!
Hockey in Canada is like football in the U.S. It’s in our DNA. If you want to sell coffee, or beer or soap or just about anything else in Canada, you just need a commercial showing people playing hockey. It’s who we are.
My timing to start playing hockey was kind of funny. The NHL has had this strike/lockout going on for 3 months, which they just settled. The strike led the news every day and frankly I was getting pretty sick of it. This is a dispute where billionaires want to pay millionaires less money. Puh-leese. I had vowed many years ago to never attend another NHL Game, but the strike convinced me I was going to never watch one again either.
But I have to say that after my experience playing happy hockey I’m tempted to watch a game. I’m sure I’ll find it depressing because of the speed at which those 20-year-olds fly up and down the ice. At our lunch counter gathering someone said, “yea, but they have short shifts, they’re only out for 30 seconds or a minute.” I’m going to have to pay attention to this, because as I was playing I kept thinking like I was 20 years old, but my legs were reminding me that I’m 53. There’s a kind of slow burning grief that comes with aging. It can be hard to admit you’re slowing down. I even find this with firewood. When we got here 15 years ago I could go all day cutting firewood. Now, I’ve learned to pace myself. I still cut all the firewood I need, and I split it and pile and love it, but it seems I need a little bit more time each year to get enough wood stored for the following year.
This blog had nothing to do with homesteading or sustainable living, but it does have to do with community. Sometimes it’s difficult to become part of a new community. I’ve been here almost 15 years and in many ways I still feel like an outsider. But I believe in the future there will be nothing as important as community, so I want to be part of a community that knows how to hit things really hard with sticks while wearing a lot of bulky protective gear. Like survivalists, but on skates.
In the meantime I will get to the arena earlier next week to try and practice my stick work because frankly it was just embarrassing this week. That “passing” thing the pros do is way harder than looks. So is shooting. So is skating fast. Or in my case, so is not falling down regularly. And until I’ve got my hockey mojo back and an NHL team is looking to sign me up, I will never drone on about playing “Happy Hockey” on Tuesday mornings in this blog, ever again.
Well it’s highly unlikely unless it’s to describe my first ride in an ambulance.