The Great Boxing Day Street Hockey Game

Posted on December 23, 2013 under Storytelling with one comment


The debate rages on.  Where is the birth place of hockey?  Many places around Canada lay claim to this title, the most common one being our own Windsor, Nova Scotia.  They say that the precursor to the modern game started around 1810.  The ancient form of the game, played on a pond in the outdoors, bears no resemblance to what is played now in arenas around the globe.

Every wannabe hockey star has, in all likelihood, played another form of the game: street hockey.  And I am here to tell you that there is no disputing this fact: The longest continuous annual street hockey game is played on Boxing Day in the small town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

I know I am skating on thin ice with this claim but if you are in doubt, don’t take my word for it.  Ask my mother.

Until recently, she lived in the same house on Hillcrest Street for well over a half a century.  And it is on the street, directly in front of her house, that a street hockey game has been held on Boxing Day every year since the mid ‘60’s.

For a number of years, it fell to me to organize the event, calling friends and family with a reminder to come at 1:00.  No excuses.  Whether suffering the excesses of Christmas Day, a bout of the flu or inclement weather, not showing up was a mark of shame.  As the years went by, it was apparent that reminders weren’t necessary.  Akin to the movie Field of Dreams “… If you build it they will come”.   Like ghosts stepping out of the mist, players young and old make their way to the shrine – the manhole cover in front of 39 Hillcrest Street.

My mother’s unfinished basement was the repository for all sporting equipment, car parts and other priceless memorabilia.  Travelling down to the cellar was like a trip into ancient history.  Over the years the collection of splintered and broken hockey sticks grew like fungus.  And there were piles of them. Dozens and dozens, actually.  CCM’s, Hespelers, Koho’s, and my personal favorite from a bygone era, Victoriaville.  The collection even included a few splintered goalie sticks.

And tennis balls.  There was a time that we used a hard, orange plastic ball for street hockey.  After repeated blows of that sphere to the male scrotum, hardened by sub-zero temperatures (the ball, that is!), we discovered a kinder and gentler puck substitute; the tennis ball.

And speaking of goalies, there was a time when we were so keen that we had two fully- equipped goaltenders manning the pipes for this big game.  There were also times that we used humans as goal posts when we couldn’t get a second net.

My mother was the protectoress of the net.  It resided in her basement for decades.  It was not uncommon for young children in the neighborhood to come knocking on her door to ask, “Mrs. MacDonald.  Can we borrow your net?”  How many women in their eighties get that request?

Hillcrest Street is a dead end street which is just about nirvana for street hockey players.  At the very end of the street lived the Mayor, Collie Herman.  Normally there wouldn’t be a lot of traffic on the street on Boxing Day, but there is a nursing home just across the way from my mother’s , attracting a steady stream of visitors during the Christmas season.  On more than one occasion, after uttering the word “car” for the umpteenth time, we petitioned the Mayor to close the street to vehicular traffic for two hours on December 26th.  No such luck.

When the snow banks were high, full body checking was evident.  And on those days when we didn’t have a white Christmas, that didn’t change.  Rum-fuelled street hockey knows no bounds.  No one ever got seriously hurt, although during one memorable game, one of the participants decided to take a ride on the hood of a slow moving vehicle.  When the driver inadvertently hit the brakes, he did a header onto hard pavement.

Over the years, the games have been reduced in length and intensity.  We spend more time on Mom’s veranda having a beer than we do on the road, getting caught up on the news from the past year.

Luckily we have built a great farm team system and I fully expect to see people raising their sticks high in the air long after I am gone.

The best thing about street hockey is that no one keeps score.  Everyone is a winner on Boxing Day.



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