Spirit Quest on hockey

Spirit Quest

Hanns recalls when hockey was a gentlemen's game

while he carries a goal-tender's scar on his forehead

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

Who’d-a-thought it!  No hockey, none until late January of this year, at least. I think it was mentioned in the Mayan Calendar.  I hear hockey night is big in Oaxaca City.

The first time I saw an NHL hockey game was at Maple Leaf Gardens — where else! Somehow, can’t remember how, I managed to get a seat in the “Reds”, still afforable in those days in the fourties, where I could fully appreciate not only the game but the players. Next time I went on the ice I made sure that my coiffure was perfectly and securely held in place by copious amounts of Brillcream.

The game seemed graceful, almost like the Ice Capades, which I took-in the following day, no comparison to “extreme hockey” — the mayhem on ice of today.

I had come all the way  from Trenton Junction by train to spend the weekend with friends in Toronto. Three hours it took with stops in such centres as Brighton, Colbourne, Cobourg, Port Hope, Oshawa, Whitby and  finally Toronto Union Station. There wasn’t much time to get up to the corner of Carleton and Church Streets.  Crowds led the way, it was like going to the Haj.

Saturday nights in the forties were spent with my ear glued to CBL, 740 on the dial, listening to Foster Hewitt create moving pictures with words from high up in the gondola. I could clearly hear the Voice of the Gardens calling out “Come ooon Teeter!” (“Teeter” Kennedy, that is) , during a quiet moment, and there were some.

And then there was the Hot Stove League where a relatively intelligent discussion  ensued over the fine points of the game. No idiotic Don Cherry in outlandish garb demanding more violence in place of sportsmanship.

The Game was played by gentlemen like Syl Apps and big Babe Pratt, models for us kids  on the pond with Eaton catalogues taped around our shins .

The wonderful story “Hockey Sweater” by Roche Carrier rings a bell with me, but in my neck of the woods we were a lot less monochromatic in our preferred attire. Blue predominated on the ice but there were one or two reds of Carrier’s preference but also the Bruins and the Black Hawks attire could be seen on ice.

Us kids crowded into the Frankford Arena, no artificial ice, and many a game was cancelled not because of a player-owner dispute but a thaw in the weather.

The Trent Valley Hockey League, a sort of rural hockey Mecca, made up of teams from such metropolis as Campbellford, Marmora, Madoc, Tweed and of course, the Bombers from Batawa/Frankford, provided truly great hockey. Fights took place but they were usually in the stands or out on the parking lot after the game.

I wasn’t much good as a goal tender after a puck pinged me on the forehead leaving a scar still visible today. I thus abandoned the stick for the mightier pen and covered the games for the local press. Travelling with the Bata team bus along snowy roads of Hastings County did somewhat interfere with my journalistic impartiality

Those days are long gone. The Game has changed. The NHL millionaires club has been iced for much of the season. Also gone are the days when our equipment bags fitted neatly in the overhead bin of the team bus. As for Wildroot Cream Oil and Vaseline Hair Tonic who needs it with masks and helmets that rival mediaeval gladiators’ attire.

Would that somehow the NHL would die (perhaps it has) and after three seasons be reborn  with some sort of gamesmanship and honour among players. As for “owners” I guess I was mistaken, the days of slavery aren’t over yet.

As we move into the near year we face another drought on ice, I have a wish. New Years is a time for resolutions mostly futile and abandoned like player-owner dialogue. For myself I have replaced them with wishful thinking. I wish for civility in sports and, yes, politics. I wish for a society less beholden to the sponsors’ greed.

It is, I suppose, a vain hope. Some would laugh and sneer at my naiveté. But I can dream, and dream I do, not only of the Trent Valley Hockey League or the NHL of those bygone days, but of a world of peace and a Canada that stands for human rights, who field not only the Habs and Leafs  but Peacekeepers.

Things weren’t perfect then by any means but they sure as hell are not today. I pray for a Spirit of Humanity, of Love and Justice not only in Canada but throughout the world.

Dream on. That’s the Spirit!.

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