Every year around Easter I can’t help but remember all the time I spent at the rink growing up.
Not once in my life did I lace up a pair of skates for a minor hockey team. Actually, I have only been in full hockey equipment two or three times in my life. But, I spent hours after hours of these holidays every year watching hockey.
Growing up in Baie Verte, we always had a couple of tournaments to look forward to each Easter. Like everywhere, it wasn’t certain what age group it would be, but it was guaranteed the community would be out to support them.
I was a bit spoiled too, we had some great hockey players to see grow. Mark and Rob Robinson were the cream of the crop — an unstoppable tandem that would put on a show every game. However, I also got to see former NHL enforcer Jody Shelley one year. He didn’t have many of those 173 career NHL fights back then, but, I tell you, he was a pleasure to watch play. The boy had skill. Goes to show it is not all about a heavy punch and a solid chin that earns you an enforcer tag at the elite level.
So, back to my memories of Easter tournaments. A group of us would spend our time at the Tommy Ricketts arena watching the local teams play. When there was noise needed, we made it. Gathered along the top row of bleachers, we would hammer against the metal walls and make that stadium rock. Home ice advantage was obvious. We had our share of angry moms and dads from all over the province protest our reckless abandon.
I remember the canteen. The candy, bars and chips would fly off the shelves. There was an art about sneaking into the hockey room, even after you had outworn your welcome. It was in there where you would find the cookies and hot chocolate of the free variety. It was where I tasted coffee for the first, and last, time (well excluding that early morning Tim Hortons cup that I will never forget from about 10 years ago).
Again last week, hockey players throughout the province came together for their big tournament. The quests for gold had lots of high and lows — and the hour or so I spent at the Pepsi Centre last week was proof of that. There were big goals, game-saving saves, critical penalties, bad calls, brutal turnovers, teamwork, end-to-end rushes, hustle, and laziness. It’s the same you see at a hockey game at any level.
I saw one young fellow get out of his mother’s vehicle, dressed in a suit and tie and wearing his baseball hat. It was a scene right off of television. I wasn’t sure if it was a 12-year-old heading to the Pee Wee B tournament or Sidney Crosby getting reading for a playoff game. I just laughed, and thought good for you young fellow.
When I got inside, a group of boys were in the tunnel in under the stands. They were wearing their shorts and strap shirts, hats on backwards. There was a small net against the wall, and they were shooting around a plastic ball. It had the feel of a pre-game at the Olympics— except, again, they were 12- and 13-year-olds. I thought, good for you young fellows.
I spoke to six of them as a reporter, and they told me what it is that hockey means to them. Most spoke about the times spent with their buddies, forming life-long relationships. Some spoke about sportsmanship and teamwork, and learning to live healthy and fit. I thought, good for you young fellows. There was a time when even the best hockey players in the world — some of the same guys who go to the rink in their suit and tie, spend pre-game fooling around with their friends, and would tell you about the lasting friendships they formed over the years — were just 12- and 13-years-old.