Saturday, November 21, 2015

It All Starts On A Pond

I believe in one commonality in ice hockey and it is this: It all starts on a pond. There are marvelous ice hockey indoor palaces and you’ll find them in places like Marlboro and Boston, Massachusetts, Blane and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Hackensack, New Jersey. On a good day the ice is very skate-able, at least for the first 15 minutes. There are no winds, perfect lighting, and sometimes you needn’t wear gloves.
                                The perfect black-ice freeze on Erskine Lake
Nearly every hockey player worth their salt, began skating outdoors. I can’t quite put my finger on that feeling you get outdoors that never happens on indoor rink ice.

Maybe, it conjures memories of growing up. The finest skating seemed to come in the gloaming. You sensed you would be called for supper any moment. By now your toes were numb, you nose frozen from breathing single-digit-temperature air. And while you are playing, hunger and a growling stomach do not even enter your mind. That will come as you unlace your skates and wonder when your toes will feel normal again.

There are many differences between the outdoor experience and the indoor rink. Don’t get me wrong, I think indoor rinks are marvelous and having more of them growing up would have been fantastic as well as wildly convenient. Just don’t tell me that skating and playing hockey indoors comes anywhere near the basic experience of natural ice.

Think of the most annoying time wasters of your life: Standing in the checkout line at the super market when only two of eight cashiers are open; waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles just to turn in your old license plates, when the nine people in front of you have various time-consuming issues; and lastly, the longest five minute you’d spend anywhere—waiting for the Zamboni to complete its rounds, wondering how he just missed that last thin strip.
                                Skating my Olympic circles

At night, nature’s breezes, resurfaces your marks. The endless air stream wears down the creases and the surface becomes perfectly smooth again. If you get lucky, the water finally tightened into that first ice on a windless evening, making the surface incredibly smooth and the color, a darker shade of black than the puck.

The NHL schedules an outdoor game for every New Year’s Day. Some venues make attendance in person a less than optimum experience. A friend of mine was at the game played in Fenway Park a few years ago. The snow during the game and his low seat at a strange angle to the rink, made watching the game a miserable experience. His experience was limited to “being there.” But, listen to every player in that game and they cannot believe how much fun playing outdoors can be and how it returned them to their roots. Many of these players hail from Saskatchewan and Manitoba where they started skating on a pond as a child.

So that is why to come full circle in a history of Bergen Catholic Ice Hockey, I start with a pond. It always starts on a pond.

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