Playing hockey

"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. " -- L.P. Hartley, in The Go-Between (1953)

Moderator: Mark Llew

Playing hockey

Postby Mark Llew » Thu Jul 22, 2021 9:00 am

When I was a kid, practically every boy lived and breathed hockey. With few exceptions, our team was the Leafs. This was the era of Punch Imlach as coach… Frank Mahovlich, Davy Keon, Dick Duff, Bert Olmstead, Johnny Bower, Carl Brewer, Alan Stanley, George Armstrong… And what glory when they first won the Stanley Cup! We admired the Canadiens – such a powerhouse – but we LOVED the Leafs.

As for us kids, if you lived on Byron, Shelley or Normandy Boulevard, you could play on ice at the foot of Byron (there didn’t seem to be any hockey players on Prince Charles). At that time, there was just an empty lot full of grass and weeds at the foot of Byron. Basically a small wasteland, But when the weather was cold, the fireman would bring their truck up and flood the derelict field with water, and we played pick-up hockey every minute that we could. Nothing beat being out there on a cold winter’s night, seeing the stars above. Orion’s Belt. The Big Dipper…

The game was simple… The first couple of kids on the scene were the two teams. As any other kids showed up, they joined one of the existing sides. BUT, we always tried for balance, so players shifted around so that good players and not-so-good players were evenly distributed. The point was not to win, but to have fun. And we did. No one wore equipment, beyond skates, of course, so there was no raising the puck. And there was very little body checking, and what there was was relatively benign, since the ice surface was too small to allow a rush at someone. Without really thinking about it too much, we all played fair, without fouls. No referee needed.

When there was no ice, we played road hockey. I loved playing goal in road hockey – my relative weakness as a skater didn’t matter, and I turned out to be not too bad a goalie on dry land!

But all this paled beside playing Legion hockey on Saturday morning. That privilege cost us $2.00 for the whole season. There were three age groups, which now would be called Novice, Peewee and Bantam. But on Saturday mornings they were called Junior A, American League and NHL. And our teams were named after the real teams. The schedule started at 7:00 a.m., one “league” at a time, and they rotated each week which “league” started first. So every three weeks you’d get the early slots. Not many parents attended, as I recall, so the kids got to the arena on their own. I can well remember one Saturday morning walking to the arena from Shelley Street in minus-15-degree weather (Fahrenheit, which equals minus-26 Celsius) after a major snowstorm. There was so much snow that I couldn’t walk on the sidewalk, so I trudged down the middle of Guelph Street at 6:15 in the morning with my hockey stick and duffle bag on my shoulder. On either side of the road were walls of plowed snow higher than I was, and no cars whatsoever. When I got to the arena, I found out that only 7 kids from our team had shown up and 8 from the other team. So a line change consisted of one kid coming off and the other kid going on the ice! Man, were we tired by the end of that game! And then we had to carry our equipment home again! But we loved it.
Mark Llew
 
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Location: Toronto

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