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going to the big game…

March 13, 2016

This weekend, our hometown boys begin their All-Ontario “CC” Bantam hockey finals with two home games against Mitchell, a town in western Ontario where the women have no virtue and one questions the men’s virility.

I say this to my mom and suggest that we get tribal and go heckle the 13-year-olds from Mitchell until they cry. Make fun of their acne, their masturbation habits, the fact that they spend a little too much time around farm animals.

She wants to know where I get these crazy ideas in my head and declines to accept my high jinks.

Truth be known, Mitchell is in the heart of Ontario farm country – where good decent people make our food – in that stretch of farmland that goes from Waterloo all the way through to Windsor. 300 kms of farms. As far as the eye can see.

Many on the Mitchell team will be farm boys. Some of them will be 6′ tall. Some of them will have facial hair. Some of them will know what it means to lift a bale of hay, wrestle a hog, rope a calf.

The most our boys know how to do in that physical labor regard is to sulk when they are asked to go out and cut the grass. The heaviest thing they lift – for the most part – is a laptop.

I remember my hockey days well. When we were in regional finals against a farm team like Sterling or Exeter. I was a farm boy too, in those days, but I never grew taller than 5’9″. I had speed, but I often thought when we would see these guys come on the ice that they were a football team on skates. Some of those guys can make your knees go weak.

My dad’s sage advice in those days: “never put your head down”.

Hockey was little better than football in the ’70’s, with sadistic viciousness flowing all the way down from those nasty bastards (the Stanley Cup champion) Philadelphia Flyers, down to house league games on Thursday nights in backwoods towns like mine, where I saw more than a few bells rang.

Of course this was all pre-concussion days, when young-men-in-training played fearless hockey, tough hockey, and all that other Don Cherry PTSD shit.

I now wonder how many manhoods were crushed in those days, when little boys discovered they were too scared to play hockey – or discovered that they were playing scared all the while? Fearing for their lives on 200′ of ice.

Most adolescent hockey, and all pre-adolescent hockey is now contact free. Much to Mr. Cherry’s chagrin I’m sure.

“How will they ever fight a war,” he will muse, “if they don’t know how to throw a check?”

Sure there is some kind of a metaphor there, but Mr. Cherry is a simpleton nevertheless. He’s smart when it comes to the game of hockey, a little sports psychology, how to coach, but he’s a tried and true dinosaur when it comes to the potential violent side of the game.

An old Bostoner, true and true.

He could have had a good career heading up a police union.

But those fight-filled days in professional hockey are long gone (mostly). Too much money involved now. Too high insurance premiums.

Same goes for the community level as well.

We’re mostly all trained middle-managers now – at least those of us with enough disposable income to pay the $3-5,000 a year for our kid’s hockey – and we want our kids to grow up safe and healthy enough to be middle managers as well.

So there are no more blind-side elbows to the head, no cross checks to the throat, no open ice brawls where parents cheer on their kids as they pummel away on each other; as if everyone had bought tickets to the roller derby or professional wrestling.

No, my mom and I will go and buy hot chocolates, get tickets for the 50/50 draw, chat with in-laws, be embarrassed should any parent need to be asked to leave the building (oh, it happens), and applaud the game, whatever the outcome.

There will be no scouts here – this is 6 levels below triple AAA Bantam hockey. That tournament is also on this weekend – it was in the Toronto Star. Some of those boys are already being looked at for Junior A hockey – a few may have already been pegged as NHL-possible.

But the joy of winning and the heart break of losing is still the same no matter the level of skill.

I will look at the filled arena – 1,500 people strong – and remember coming out onto the ice in front of such a cheering crowd – we were young proud nervous gladiators on skates –  but I will not have a whit of nostalgia for those good ole days of rock-em sock-em hockey.

I escaped with my head intact. Let’s leave it at that.


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