Sunday, January 21, 2018

Reminiscing: It's Hockey Night Tonight

Many of the longtime readers of Niagara’s Watercooler know that we like hockey over here. Yes, the halls of the Watercooler mothership are plastered with hockey memorabilia, and the staff tries to get to as many games as possible. That love of hockey extends to beyond simply watching the games. It means playing, too. Wendy and I have spent many hours at the rink, skating with friends on a Friday night. We’ve also spent many mornings with rollerblades in local parking lots playing hockey.

I had already moved out of my parents house and was living with Wendy when I saw my brother one day skating in the middle of Autumnvale with some friends of his. They had a hockey net, complete with a sucker in goal. I only say sucker because whoever it was didn’t have all the correct gear. I sat on the curb and watched them for awhile. Then I decided to join in.

I could roller skate just a little bit, but at that time, I had never rollerbladed. Of course, when I first started roller skating, I had a key that I hung around my neck to keep the skates tight. That didn’t really work at Skateland despite my best efforts on at least two occasions. (That will be its own article very soon.) Rollerblading was something entirely different. I had to borrow a pair to jump into the game. Immediately, I was ready to play. I told Wendy when I got home that I needed to get a pair of rollerblades for myself.
Some hockey in the driveway

I bought myself a really crappy pair of skates. Wendy got a pair, too. Then we got some knee pads, thinking that’s all we needed. It only took one game in Autumnvale to realize that we needed more than the basic padding. One rap across the knuckles and another across the shins meant that another trip to the store was in order.

With our new gear, we recruited friends from work to play hockey with us. Every Saturday morning, we would play somewhere. We quickly outgrew playing in Autumnvale, and it was a pain stopping every time a car came around the corner. We did try on Bob-O-Link, just past the corner of Autumnvale, but it was too bumpy. Our first main stop for games was the parking lot behind Lockport High School. One time, I got two handed across the back of my head. After I recovered from my concussion, I wore a helmet. We all did. Why we weren’t before that is beyond me.

Soon, we moved to the parking lot behind Washington Hunt. This was much closer to home after we bought the house we live in now. It was an easy thing to get over there. I used to drive my work van so that we could get the net over there. We always had a goalie and one of the windows on the building was our check line. We never shot towards the building. We liked to use the wall to the hospital parking lot as a backstop. That way we didn’t have to chase an errant shot all over the place.

Patience in some gear
There was one time that it was too wet to blade. We still wanted to play hockey, so we did it in sneakers. I thought I was going to die. Even though we played for several hours every Saturday on blades, running for that same time was killer. I was more out of shape than I thought. All of us took more breaks than normal. I think we played at Washington Hunt for at least a year or so.

During the winter when we couldn’t get outside, we didn’t stop playing hockey. There were a couple of times that I went with some friends down to West Seneca to play roller hockey on an actual rink. It was about that time that one of my coworkers got the idea that we should play ice hockey, too. So, we started out getting some ice at the Pepsi Center (now known as the Northtown Center) and playing late on Friday nights. Later, Dwyer Arena became our rink of choice.

After I moved from one job to another, we had a new influx of players each Friday night. We almost always had two goalies and at least a full line change. It was something we looked forward to each week. We’d spend an hour or so on the ice, then head off for some beers. Sometimes we’d go out to eat after that. Playing hockey takes a lot of calories so food is a must. Since this was before we had kids, there were nights that we rolled into bed around three in the morning. Those were some interesting nights.

Craig & Dave. Yes, I am that short.
We spent a lot of time with some great friends because of hockey. After we had kids, we mostly steered away from the rinks. It’s hard when you have two babies at home. I have found myself skating occasionally. One time, I skated with David Kasperek, who actually played hockey. I learned one very important lesson that day. That lesson was that professional players, even after they’ve retired, they have another gear that the rest of us simply can’t comprehend. I got smoked. It wasn’t even close. Laughable, really.

When the twins were really small, we bought them a couple of small nets with sticks. We set them up in the kitchen where we could play some floor hockey. I had to run to the bathroom while we were playing. Before I got back, there was screaming, tears, and blood. Apparently, Patience didn’t like something IdaLena was doing, so she smacked her in the head with her stick. Wendy had to take IdaLena to the emergency room where the cut had to be glued shut. At two years old, she had her first hockey injury.

Occasionally, before the net fell apart, we’d pull it out of the garage and play around in the driveway. There have been times the nephews or the kids have taken a fresh ice stick out of the garage and used it on the pavement. But they were having fun, I guess. I have the dents in my garage doors to prove it.

Stuck here in the middle of winter, I’m hoping for spring when we can break out the rollerblades and get some Saturday morning games going again. We’re not in our 20s anymore, but we still have it. We might be skating slower, but we’ll still be awesome. Mostly because hockey is awesome.

Craig Bacon has a natural talent for bench warming. He also says it’s bad luck to dipsey-doodle around Wendy when you’re wearing green.