Chapter 1 – Of Getting on, and sometimes off the Ice.
I was always big from a young age and apparently the first thing I did was skate, it’s a standing joke in my family that I skated before I walked and talked. I have no idea if it’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
My Dad would take me ‘out the back’ whenever I wanted to go out there, which of course, was always. When I say ‘out the back’, our town was typical of many in Canada where we lived. There wasn’t a lot behind our house, in fact there was nothing except a few trees and my dads old wrecked shed, which somehow managed to get through every winter without falling apart. It had now became my hockey equipment shed. So Dad made me my own Ice Pad with home-made goals, and some sort of markings that from time to time tended to moved around on the ice slightly. Looking back it was crude, real crude, but it was mine. It was my own Madison Square Gardens, my own Joe Louis Arena, whatever it was, it was mine, and I loved it.
Whenever Dad was at work, or too tired from work, or just tinkering with our old yellow rusted truck, I would still go out there. Commentating to myself as I skated by imaginary defencemen and slotting the puck top shelf against the hapless netminder which was typically a sack of coal, or a chair from out the kitchen. Later in life Dad told me he and mom would sometimes hide on the back veranda giggling and listening to me run through my plays in this imaginary commentator’s voice. Little did I know that it would be all be too real soon enough.
My friends would come and play, but more than often it would be me and my ‘pa’ messing around. Aiming at the cross bar, hanging apples in the corners and smashing them, or trying to smash them, all the typical stuff North American kids would do I guess. Mom would come out with the hot chocolate late at night, and beg us to “finish up now boys”. I never wanted to finish up. Never ever. “10 more minutes Mom” would be my standard reply as I sipped the hot sweet chocolate. Sometimes a cookie was offered as a lure to get me in. Dad was stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place, but I normally won this battle.
I joined up on my first team when I was 6. It’s all a bit vague, the nearest team to me was an Under 8s age group, and so I went to that. As a kid I was good, not overly skilled, but talented enough, and as my dad told me, I had ‘good strong legs’. I could certainly skate and move well, quite quick for a big kid. I was one of the biggest on the ice, and without sounding boastful, I was one of the better players. They stuck me on D (defence) there, because of my size I guess. Talk about being pigeon holed from an early age.
I was a reluctant junior to begin with, Dad dragged me there virtually. I wanted to stay at home, with Pa, and shoot apples and oranges from my wobbly make shift blue line. Why did I need to go and join these other kids? At first I didn’t get it at all.
This didn’t last long, after four or five weeks, Dad was fighting to get me out of the place. I was always the last off the ice. This was never, not the case. That’s a fact. Always the last one off. You want me off your ice? Come and get me. Zamboni needs to come out? I will go round it. Coach threatens to drop me? I will find another team, and I was the best player anyway, so I was savvy enough even at 7 years of age to know that threat was hollow. In later years as you will read, I never took kindly to coaches and their hollow threats.
About the only thing that got me off the ice, was physical hunger, or sometimes spotting dad through one of the misty glass panels in the arena slowly starting to drive away, that was his last chance call to me. Now or never. Many times he went through with it. Much to my mother’s derision and anger.
It was 45 minutes’ walk home from that rink, and even I gave in (usually), when the thought of that long, bitterly cold walk went through my head. Sometimes I didn’t spot him. Sometimes I just wasn’t ready to come off. The ice was mine, and that was how it was staying.