Friday nights at the The Stellarton Memorial Arena in Pictou County, N.S. during the early ’90s.
It smelled like rink fries and bad coffee. It’s built like many of the old rinks that dot the country.
The Stellarton Arena has wooden stands and wooden floors. In places, chicken wire hangs where glass should be.
In the dressing rooms, there weren’t any rubber mats to prevent the dulling of skate blades.
The wooden floors of the dressing rooms dipped in places and rose in others.
There were three games every night featuring teams from the Pictou School League and chances are the big boys from East Pictou were going to beat you up if you played them.
“You always wanted to be playing in that 9:15 p.m. game,” said Sportsnet host Ken Reid as he remembered his high school playing days. “It seemed like the night got a lot more fun as it went on. It got rowdier.”
Just over 1,200 kilometres away at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts, a similar scene is playing out — right down to the chicken wire in places.
The host Ascension Collegiate Astros and the St. Francis Crusaders from Harbour Grace are in the midst of warm up.
The modest sized rink is jammed as supporters from both schools and the anticipation is rapid as the opening puck drop approaches.
I’m almost 10 years old and watching from the balcony above the entrance of the Bay Arena. It’s gone now, replaced by the Wes Gosse Memorial Bay Room, but it offered a great view of the game.
You can see the student section hurling insults at opposition players as they skate by and you can see the men huddled around the glass giving their own form of commentary.
When it comes to hockey, Bay Roberts and Stellarton aren’t so far away it seems. The Friday night game and the culmination of a week’s worth of anticipation is exactly the same.
If you believe hockey is Canada’s game, then you have to believe the intersection of hockey and everyday life happens the same in every corner of the country.
At the risk of being cliché, hockey is more than a game in this country.
“I like to say Hockey Day in Canada is a national conversation,” said Reid, who was in Corner Brook for the Hockey Day in Canada celebrations. “Everybody has a hockey story. Whether you played, whether you watched, whether it was your uncle (playing), but everybody can kind of unite over that.
“Even if they’re not hockey fans, they still have a hockey story. I think it’s one of those things that brings us together.”
That conversation gets started in the same place everywhere else in the country. It’s a part of the early morning practices when the dads huddled around the glass at the far end of the rink, it is a part of the weekend road tournaments and it’s a part of mornings before school spent watching the previous night’s highlights.
It never ends really. The conversation just gets paused until the next time you wake up at 6:30 a.m. to head to the rink, or when you see your favourite senior hockey player in line at the coffee shop.
Hockey is Canada and Canada is hockey.
You needed only experience the Hockey Day in Canada celebrations to see just how much the game means.
—Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with the Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org