Me modelling Maple Leafs hockey
sweater and socks, a Christmas
gift circa 1946.
Games of “shinny” were played where ever and when ever more than five or six kids congregated at one time. Generally, there were no rules for those games (we did not know the rules anyway)…No such thing as offsides, icing, or penalties, and rest periods were unheard of -- we just played until enough of us dropped from exhaustion. We did know, however, about faceoffs and scoring goals between pieces of wood, bricks, large stones or someone’s boots strategically placed at each end of the ice surface. When we lost a puck, a flattened tin can worked almost as well. Some of the older guys who cared about such things, kept track of goals-for and goals-against but in the end the score really did not matter.
Eaton’s catalogues, held on by jar rubber rings, saved many a bruised shin. Actual hockey gloves were virtually unheard of. Frozen toes, fingers and ears tended to thaw out on the long walks home at night. Blistered and swollen cauliflower ears were the proud battle scar of an outside hockey warrior the next day in school.
One of the biggest thrills that Dresden kids of my age had was when we travelled to nearby Rutherford to play hockey in good old Pat Johnston’s chicken barn, which to us was the equivalent of Conn Smythe’s Maple Leafs Gardens. When the Dresden Community Arena was finally built in about 1953, a high school hockey team was formed and we played against schools from Wallaceburg and Blenheim. I played goal for a couple of those unforgettable games wearing pads from the 1930s loaned to me by old-time goalie Jack Martin, tan colored army issue hockey pants handed down to me by cousin Jack Sharpe and my baseball first baseman’s glove serving as a trapper. Blenheim players and coaches salivated when they saw me skate out onto the ice for the first time. They subsequently pelted me with more than 60 shots on goal in 45 minutes of no-stop-time hockey and skated away with a 7-2 victory, which was not too bad considering.
No school homework was done during the CBC Radio Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts by Foster Hewitt (“he shoots, he scores”) from the Gondola high in the rafters of Maple Leafs Gardens and Danny Gallivan (“a cannonating shot”) from the historic Forum in Montreal. I lived vicariously through the on-ice exploits of Syl Apps, Teeder Kennedy, Gaye Stewart and Turk Broda of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings “production line” of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio.
It was easy, of course, to keep track of all teams in the National Hockey League in my day because there were only six of them compared to 30 today -- seven in Canada.
This all came back to me this past weekend as Scotiabank's Hockey Day across Canada was celebrated. My own little community of Saugeen Shores marked the event with a weekend skills and drill competition, an invitational hockey tournament and a game featuring the Toronto Furies against the Boston Blades from the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
As I watched the crowds of people flooding in to the Port Elgin Plex and the happy, healthy, enthusiastic faces of the young (and old) players carrying huge bags of equipment, I could not help but think of how times have changed and the remarkable facilities and coaching available to both boys and girls today.
I cannot help but wonder too, if kids dream the same a we oldsters did a half century ago. Somehow I think that they do...At least I hope that they do! That's half the fun of it, after all.
Colleges and universities now offer hockey scholarships and junior leagues develop hundreds of players with potential professional talent. Playing in the NHL is no longer an impossible dream. Collectively, each year the NHL signs in the neighborhood of 1,000 young players to contracts in the mega bucks range.
Thousands of Canadians also get their weekly hockey fix each year playing for fun in adult recreational (beer) leagues housed in comfortable multi-rink complexes. Hockey-playing days and dreams can be extended well into the senior years.
All I can say is: “born 70 or 75 years too soon!”