words & photo :: Colin Field.
I’m not even sure I should write these words down, and once I say the thing I’m about to say I’ll probably find a mob outside my house. But I’m gonna say it anyway: I’m a bad Canadian. Why? Because I’m not that into hockey.
I never have been. I’ve heard of the Leafs of course and obviously Bobby Orr. I’ve even seen the house where Orr grew up (bit of a crack den these days). I once dressed up as a soccer hooligan for Halloween and people thought I was Wendel Clark, so I’ve heard of him, too. And of course, living near Collingwood, I know Scott Thornton. But that’s it.
I have friends who are also bad Canadians. Hockey never comes up with these guys. We don’t go watch a game at the bar or discuss trades, fantasy leagues or the stick-handling skills of other fully grown men. So far it hasn’t been a problem. I’ve been left out of a few conversations over the years and probably missed a couple career opportunities because I can’t talk the talk, but that’s fine with me. I’m just not that interested.
But it’s inevitable that, as a Canadian, every few years I end up on a backyard rink. I’ll wipe the rust off my skates (people think ski boots are uncomfortable?!), dust off my stick (I’m not so treasonous that I don’t own one) and wobble around on the ice, using the stick more like a walking cane. Once in a while my bad Canadian friends will also show up. They’ll say things like, “Oh I can’t play hockey. I can barely skate.”
And you know what’s funny? Every time a friend of mine says they can’t play hockey, the next minute they’re tick-tacking around, man-handling the puck, doing crossovers around corners and shooting at the net.
These are guys that weren’t schlepped around from arena to arena as kids, they weren’t on the high school team, nor do they play every week. Somewhere along the line, they just learned the basics of hockey. And I’m the same.
I can only speak for myself, but I know where I learned: on the frozen pond at the park across from my childhood home. I don’t remember playing much, but I distinctly remember winding up for a slap shot and smacking the kid behind me in the face. His nose bled all over the place while he screamed at me, “No slap shots!”
I never realized that was a rule. Offside cherry-picking was another rule I never truly grasped. But I owe all my skills to that pond.
Nowadays, these three-on-three games of pickup can get pretty heated. Even though half the players claim they can’t play hockey, they kinda can. Once in a while we’ll even score on the guys who play weekly. That feels good.
It’s at these times that I look around at my non-hockey-playing friends and think, Hey, just because we don’t know who got the most RBIs in the third quarter of last night’s game doesn’t mean we’re bad Canadians. We can sort of play. Hey, we’re mediocre Canadians!
Give me a stick, some skates and, most importantly, a low-pressure, nothing-but-fun pond to skate on, and for an afternoon at least, I’ll admit: Hockey’s pretty fun. Long live The Great One!