Monday Morning Musings

Posted on January 25, 2021 under Monday Morning Musings with 4 comments

St. Joseph’s Lake

(Photo credit: Joe MacDonald)

A frozen lake.

A pair of skates.

A hockey stick.

A puck.

A moonlit evening.

Who were you when you swept and soared across pristine ice with a chill in the air turning your cheeks a rosy red? Were you Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovlich, Jean Belliveau or Bobby Orr? The only sounds you could hear were your skates cutting grooves into the ice and the clackety clack of sticks maneuvering a black disc among fast moving feet.

This was not the place to master your shooting skills. No wristers or slap shots, for those foolish enough to do this, often had to skate hundreds of yards beyond the goal posts (often a pair of winter boots) to retrieve the puck after an errant shot. With little or no friction on a glassy surface, the puck had no brakes and no intention of stopping.

Instead of shooting, young boys and girls learned first and foremost how to skate. After all, when there was little else to do in a distant time, you skated and skated and skated. Having to go home for supper was groan inducing as a spirited game had to be interrupted. Homework was an afterthought. After bolting down a meal, you were back on the ice, ready to go for another few hours. Lighting in the dark winter evenings was provided free of charge by the moon.

Hockey players learned how to stick handle and pass a puck. Many a pro hockey player of that era will tell you that these skills were honed on vast expanses of frozen water in the great outdoors.

The number of players varied but this was of little consequence. If only a handful showed up (a rarity), the size of your own personal rink was small. You simply moved the two pairs of boots closer together.

When a mob descended, which was more often the case, the dimensions of your personal outdoor rink were adjusted accordingly. Speaking of mobs, fights were virtually non-existent. Skill trumped brawn.

Work ethic was part of the experience. Often the conditions on the pond or lake weren’t pristine, especially after a dump of snow. This meant carrying shovels from home and spending the first hour clearing the ice before play could begin. If you refused to shovel, you weren’t allowed to play. Pond hockey justice.

There were no referees. Fair play wasn’t a slogan back then. It was expected.

Scores of 50-48 were common. Playing for hours on end produced these kinds of results. When scores got lopsided, teams were changed. No one cared much about routing the opponent, at least most of the time! Everyone relished good competition and keeping teams evenly matched was paramount.

From time to time, a small bonfire may have been lit on the banks of the lake to warm partially frost-bitten fingers and toes on bitterly cold days. No one complained. There were things far worse in life back then, like boredom.

Oddly enough, hockey reduced the incidence of hooky. We skated to the point of exhaustion and school provided a respite from this vigorous endeavor. Nobody was thrilled to go to school but skating all day and all night would eventually wear thin as surely as the ice did in the spring.

Climate change has rendered outdoor skating almost obsolete. It is almost impossible to get consistently favorable conditions.

This does not mean we cannot dream about of the days of our youth when things seemed so simple.

A frozen lake.

A pair of skates.

A hockey stick.

A puck.

A moonlit evening.

With our lives stretched out in front of us on the endless horizon.

Have a great week.

P.S. The photo for this story was provided by a lifelong friend, Joe MacDonald. We played junior hockey against each other over 50 years ago. He played for the Port Hawkesbury Pirates, the hated rivals of my hometown Antigonish Bulldogs. I’m certain that Joe learned how to play hockey on a pond in Judique. All of the niceties of pond hockey were long forgotten when these two teams squared off!


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