Posted on January 19, 2020 under Storytelling with one comment



The “Comeback Kid”? Nope


“Hurry don’t be late, I can hardly wait,
I said to myself when we’re old,
We’ll go dancing in the dark, walking through the park,
And reminiscing.”
Reminiscing – Little River Band

Skates, a stick and a puck and a sheet of ice.

Forty years ago, almost to the day, I blew my knee out in a hockey game, ending my illustrious (?) hockey career. It is the only thing I have in common with the greatest player of all time, Bobby Orr. Gretzky fans might dispute this last assertion. I went skating a few times in the ensuing decades but never picked up a hockey stick since then. Until yesterday.

I had been led to believe that a few of my students were to play a hockey game at the local arena here in Kangiqsujuaq at 1:00. I wandered over to the arena, a short 5-minute jaunt from my apartment, to watch them play. I arrived to find the place empty except for the custodian. The ice surface was in darkness.

“Would you like to go for a skate?” he queried. I almost said no but figured that a short skate might work off the cookies I had just eaten at home. I told him that I didn’t have skates. “You can use mine.” He escorted me to the office/equipment room. The skates were almost a perfect fit. He then produced hockey gloves, a stick and the mandatory helmet. I walked down the hallway, made a sharp left turn to the players bench and gingerly stepped onto the ice. The arena lights came on.

Just me, a pair of skates, a stick and a puck.

And then the memories flooded back.

Like most Canadians living in small towns, we learned how to skate on outdoor ponds where we swooped and soared believing that we were the embodiment of Rocket Richard, Bobby Hull or Gordie Howe. We skated until it was pitch dark and longer on moonlit nights. Our mothers might have had trouble getting us to come home to do our homework, but they didn’t have to coax us into going to bed, our energy completely depleted.

I played in the minor hockey system and progressed to playing Junior hockey for our hometown Bulldogs. My talents were modest. My coach in minor hockey, the late and wonderful Frank McGibbon once told me that my shot couldn’t break an egg. I could skate fast and pass the puck to those with gifted hands.

I suited up for the Fairview Elks senior hockey team in Fairview, Alberta for three years in the late 70s. This was during my first foray into teaching. Every home game, the rink was packed, and I felt like I was playing in the big leagues. Our team sponsor owned a fried chicken restaurant and after every game, we were treated to Ed’s finest along with a cold beer. Sometimes we ate more than one piece of chicken!

The accident happened in 1980 and my hockey days came to a screeching halt.

I noticed a few things as I made my first lap around the rink. I could blame it on the new skate technology, but it is more likely age and infirmity, but it certainly didn’t feel like hopping back on a bicycle after a lengthy hiatus. I felt awkward and unsure. We were so cocky and sure-footed in everything we did in our youth. The aging process tests our humility.

I was alone with my thoughts. As I picked up confidence, I was aware of the sound of my skates biting into the ice, that familiar sound from yesteryear. Other than that recognizable soundtrack, the arena was completely silent. “How good is this?” I thought as I tried to make a few manouevers with stick and puck. I prayed that no one was secretly videotaping this exhibition of gracelessness.

I was almost giddy with excitement, reliving my youth in a place I never dreamed of being. It was “Hockey Night in Kangiqsujuaq”.

I profusely thanked the custodian for his kindness and headed directly for the Coop store to see about buying a pair of skates.

Is a comeback in store? Not likely.

I lay on the couch reading for a few hours after supper. When I tried to get up, my body vehemently protested. Every muscle, joint, bone and organ in my body screamed at me. What they were saying isn’t fit to print. After a few feeble attempts, I made it to the bathroom and grabbed an extra strength Tylenol.

“He sleeps. He snores.”


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