Hockey Owes me an Apology
Excerpt from amuzings, by Dwayne R. James, 2018
I really hate hockey.
There, I said it.
Now, before somebody tries to use this confession as grounds to revoke my Canadian citizenship, let me explain: it’s hockey's fault. Oh, and maybe Tarzan’s too.
My hate affair with hockey is kind of ironic actually. In truth, I should be one of the game’s biggest fans. I did, after all, grow up in Cochrane, Ontario, the birthplace of Tim Horton, arguably our nation’s most famous hockey player, thanks in large part to his posthumous consecration as this country’s most venerated peddler of highly addictive caffeinated beverages and deep-fried breakfast substitutes.
Yet, in spite of this most excellent pedigree, hockey and I never saw eye to facemask.
It’s not like I didn’t try either. When, at the tender age of nine, I joined a children’s hockey league at my father’s behest, it was ostensibly to learn how to play the game. Little did I know though that, in Canada—at least in the 1970s—you did not join a children’s hockey league at the tender age of nine to learn how to play hockey.
No! You were a Canadian boy; hockey was supposed to be in your blood! You didn’t teach a northern pike to swim or a loon to wail any more than you taught a Canadian kid to brandish a bent stick in the reckless pursuit of a ridiculously hard piece of rubber across a slab of rock-hard, frozen water.
The problem for me was that, in my childhood, I had been mostly oblivious to the Canadian hockey culture that had permeated so much of that era. Oh sure, I was aware that, sometime in my recent past, some guy named Henderson had single-handedly prolonged the cold war, and some other guy named Bobby Howe (or something) was every kid’s hero. And I also knew that a lot of boys my age liked Les Canadiens, a team from a province that, at the time, didn’t even want to be Canadien.
But that was about all I knew. That’s why I was surprised just as much as the next Guy Lafleur when, one cold Saturday morning in December, my father dragged me away from the television where I had been watching a classic Tarzan movie, and told me that I was going to play hockey. I was reluctant to go, but at least he wasn’t threatening to take me hunting again. I think we can all agree that his idea the previous autumn of getting behind the prey to flush it through the forest in the direction of a frightened kid with a loaded firearm had been a bad idea.
Yeah, the 1970s was a tough time to be a child.
If today’s parents hover too closely, then their counterparts in the 1970s were floating entirely off-planet. I’m not sure where our parents spent the majority of their time in the seventies, but it certainly wasn’t actually spending time with us or answering our questions. As kids, we were forced to figure out far too many things on our own, a problem that was exacerbated in subjects that adults avoided at the best of times—like sex for instance.
You might think that I’m exaggerating this last part, but I’m not. When I was about ten years old—when most of my friends were out watching Star Wars—I saw an educational movie on the CBC that promised to answer all my questions about how babies were made. I was excited at the prospect. I had a lot of questions.
Now, I hadn’t been expecting pornography, but I had hoped that a film about sexual reproduction might have at least elucidated the mechanics involved. Instead, the narrator vaguely explained that babies came about as the eventual result of a part of the male anatomy that “fits together really well” with a part of the female anatomy. Unfortunately, the movie failed to specify what those parts were, much less how they actually fit together.
Perhaps predictably, it was just a few days later when I accidentally stuck a finger into the ear of one of my female classmates and couldn’t help but notice how well these two parts of our anatomies fit together. Had I impregnated her? Who knew? I had, quite literally, never been told differently.
And so, in this spirit of forcing me to figure things out by myself, my father introduced me to our Great National Pastime by dropping me off at the Tim Horton Memorial arena in Cochrane, and then promptly driving away. I was met at the door by complete strangers who ushered me inside, covered me in pads that were held in place by elastics thicker than the kind you find on clumps of broccoli, strapped dangerously sharp pieces of metal to my feet, gave me an L-shaped stick, and pushed me out onto the ice where I spun around a few times before eventually coming to a stop, thanks to a force I would later find out was called “friction.” (Friction, I might add, became one of my best friends in high school, despite the fact that the aforementioned educational movie had failed to even mention it.)
Then, those same strangers who had just abandoned me in the middle of the hockey rink, and who were allegedly supposed to be teaching me how to actually play the game that I’d just suited up for, had the temerity to yell at me for not knowing what to do next.
I was at least aware enough to know that the activity in which I was forcibly engaged, involved something called a “puck.” The Peter the Puck cartoons—the only part of Hockey Night in Canada I ever watched beyond the theme song—told me as much.
But, what was I supposed to do with it?
Was I supposed to put the puck in a net? If so, then which one? There were, after all, two to choose from, and I had the distinct impression that the red-faced guy with the angry vein on his forehead might take offense if I chose poorly.
I sighed. When I had left home that morning, Tarzan had been on his way to New York City. I would have liked to have seen how that movie ended.
I was supposed to be chasing the puck, the angry man with the now-purple face told me before hurling a few insults, including some kind of insinuation that my parents had never been married.
Chase the puck? But why? Every time I went anywhere near it, the other kids would push me down and skate away with it. Who needed that kind of stress? Why was I even playing a game that encouraged this kind of violence? Did my Mom know about this?
More to the point, why couldn’t I just buy my own puck so that I wouldn’t have to share it with kids who thought that shoving each other to the ice was a fun way to spend a Saturday morning? Then, I could take my new puck, lay down on the floor of my recroom and roll it around while I watched Tarzan. Where the room was warm. Where the floor was carpeted. If I was going to spend so much time prone on a surface while I played with a puck, then that surface should at least be carpeted.
As I lay on the ice during that first game and looked up at the rafters of my hometown ice rink, I wondered if Tim Horton had ever seen this view. I toyed with the idea of getting up, but it seemed kinda pointless if I was only going to be pushed back down again, and things were certainly a lot less chaotic there at the end of the rink where the puck wasn’t.
After the “game”, we were herded into a change room that was—I was disappointed to discover—already full of pre-teen boys who were not being supervised by adults. In case you are not already aware of it, let me be the first to tell you that pre-teen boys who are not being supervised by adults are little shits. I found that out the hard way that morning when one of those hoodlums blew a huge lungful of cigarette smoke directly into my face after telling me that I was in the wrong change room because I played hockey like a girl.
Looking back, I would personally like to thank that little thug for forcing me to inhale such a large quantity of a well-known carcinogen. He single-handedly helped me to discover that smoking was bad for my health by making me forget how to breathe. For, like, an hour.
Coincidentally, that same boy also taught me never to be a bully, because I had just discovered first-hand that being bullied sucks. Almost as much as hockey.
That was my last time on the ice. I decided right then and there that, until hockey apologized, it was dead to me.
The next Saturday morning, I was back watching Tarzan.
The long-overdue hockey apology, I’m going to assume, is forthcoming.