childhood, Culture, Sports

Down At The Rink-1

The Delhi Arena, our sports center year round.

If it wasn’t for the Delhi Arena, most of our youth would have been spent watching TV. But as it turned out, the “rink” was the birthplace of our skaters, hockey players, and curlers. It was also the winter playground where we grew up, showed up, showed off, fought, danced, laughed, spectated, spat, scraped, yelled, screamed and inexorably, became self aware.

The building was the largest and tallest in Delhi, a cinder block fortress with a vast yawning wooden frame roof. Below were two rows of wooden-backed  spectator benches painted in bold reds and blues. Sitting in these, one could look up and wonder at the ceiling. Massive multi-ply planking formed the immense rafters in a parabolic curve that supported tons of shiplap and asphalt roofing tiles.

A modular wooden track is installed for bike races.

Under the rafters, there were hangers and struts arranged in geometric, weight-sharing designs.  These were bolted into the 120-foot wooden joists that stretched the width of the rink.   The walls were held together by penetrating steel rods that crossed the expanse twenty feet above our heads. One could only marvel at the steeple jacks that created this edifice.   And suspended in the middle, at center ice was a four-sided game clock and score box, sponsored by Players cigarettes, that was large enough to house a two-story chicken coop.  Fully automated, it could record Home and Visitor teams scores, count to twenty minutes, and blast a brash game-over siren that was unmistakable.

Here was every Delhi kid’s excuse to get out of the house.  We had a raucous, robust minor hockey league that was a rite of passage for boys.  Typically, we were up before 7am on a Saturday, grabbing a breakfast, and then hiking down to the rink.

For most of us, standard equipment included flimsy little shoulder pads, hardly more protective than a grilled cheese sandwich.  Plastic kneepads, held up by rubber Mason Jar rings, were worn under our jeans, or if we were devoted to the sport, inside Canadiennes or Maple Leaf socks. Most of us had huge sweaters,  hockey pants and suspenders.  We stuffed the whole kit with our skates into a burlap potato sack, and slinging that over our hockey stick, shouldered our gear along streets, alleys and wooded paths, over Big Creek, and down to the rink.

One of Delhi’s many All Star rep teams, courtesy of Vandenbussche Irrigation and The Knights of Columbus.

The rep teams, the All-Stars, had company-sponsored jerseys and played their games in the evenings and weekends, at home and away.   Our rink hosted future hockey royalty too, when a championship match included a young 12-year-old Wayne Gretzky.   He glided across our ice like a jet, maybe aware of what was to come.

But the rep game was far beyond my mediocre skills, intuition or strength, so I spent my hockey hours on Saturday mornings chasing runaway pucks, bouncing off the boards, picking myself up, with occasional wobbling shots aimed at scrambling goalies.

The highlight was Sunday at the rink when our Junior B team, the Rocket 88s would take on a visiting team from neighbouring towns, like Simcoe and Waterford and Tilsonburg, all within 10 miles of Delhi.  The 88s were named for their sponsor, Wills Motors which proudly sold Oldsmobiles.  These games were the quintessential celebration of small town spirit.  500-600 fans would fill the wooden seats and cheer the 88s for every goal, upset and penalty called.

Wills Motors named their team the Rocket 88s for the classic Oldsmobile.

As kids, we ran up and down the concrete aisles, popping empty paper Dixie Cups under our heels, razzing the visiting team behind their bench, banging the boards with broken hockey sticks, scarfing down hot chocolate and cups of salted french fries.  The fans roared for our hometown heroes like Rolly Thibault, Bob Sabatine, Tony Benko, Earl O’Neil, Dan Barrett and Joe Kelly, who was rumored to be Red Kelly’s cousin, but we never knew for sure.  And beside home bench, sat Dr. Ron McCallum, the team’s very own, who eyed every shot, and high stick for a possible injury.

Worthy of note, the ice hockey back then was different from today: no head gear, including the goalie, and no fights.

Between periods there was a solemn procession that never varied.  A cadre of older teen age guys had earned the right to shovel the ice.  This was in the pre-Zamboni era.  About ten of them split into two teams, and would push heavy steel shovels up and down the length of the rink in formation like Canada geese.  The shaved ice would flow off the first shovel onto the one beside and back a few paces, until it had cascaded across 5 or 6 blades.

Hockey the way it used to be: no helmets, masks or fights.

The shovelers had a uniform, too.  Not with stripes or corporate sponsoring, but just as important.  They were on display.  It would be a flight jacket or heavy windbreaker, zipped half way up the chest to reveal a plaid flannel shirt open at the collar displaying a white t-shirt.  The jacket collar was always turned up.  Their hair was slick and groomed to perfection. The uniform called for jeans that were draped into black rubber wellingtons with orange trim, folded down to reveal about 4 inches of the boot’s canvas lining.  An acceptable alternative was the zipped rubber boot which by consensus must be unzipped down to the toes so that the boots’ collars flapped open like Batman’s cape.

The game clock, courtesy of Imperial Tobacco’s Players cigarettes.

After circling the rink, the two shovel teams corralled all the shaved ice into the middle lane.  There, in the grande finale, they would cup the snow into one pile and all ten shovelers would push the shavings out the back door of the rink.   They didn’t return, but it’s likely they paused for a smoke out back as the crowds waited inside for the next act.

It was very special.   A small, quiet, older gentleman with silver hair, Ivan, would apply a new surface to the ice.  Before Zamboni, ice makers rigged up a 45-gallon drum filled with steaming hot water.  It was mounted on two black rubber tires, and had two 6-foot-pipe outriggers that oozed hot water through toweling onto the ice.  Ivan wore steel cleats.  He would carefully pull his contraption along the scarred and riddled surface, and opening the valves a tad, create a smooth satin sheen before us.  Ivan could resurface the entire rink in about ten minutes, under the watchful eyes of impatient ’88 fans who couldn’t help but notice the “Vandenbussche Irrigation” sign displayed on a tent over the drum.

The rink was the town’s sports center, in use all year.  It hosted bicycle races, wrestling matches, roller skating, a little curling – and hockey, for sure.  But that was only part of the program.  The rink had figure skating too, which was magical, and wildly exciting in another way I can’t begin to tell you now.  A weird place for a guy to show up, but there I was.

More to follow, next week.

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Sports

Hands Up!

Does praying really work?   I am guessing it does, because any footballer whoever crossed a goal line knows that next to putting both feet on the ground, it’s getting an elbow down on bended knee fast that is just good sense.    Especially if your contract is up this season.

Losing-faith-in-the-nfl-10-5

“…for three more years on my contract, a product endorsement, and don’t boot my car out front…”

 

It seems that NFL’s Sunday, Monday and Thursday football games ensure that at least three days out of the week, someone is getting to church, sort of.

My question is, should one pray before making the play?   Or only after?   Is a touchdown the minimum requirement for a prayer?   What if one flubs an end zone pass?   Especially in the fourth quarter? Should one whisper a plea for a second chance?  Maybe admit they did not really close their eyes during opening team prayers earlier on?  Personally, I would pray for protection from getting pureed by a highly motivated gang of college-educated, beef-fed, millionaire road pavers.

Of course, the truly devout are curlers.   I witnessed this when I watched an intense match on the ice earlier this weekend while viewing sports TV in a Canadian pub.  On one screen we had football: men in colorful helmets and tight pants;  on another: extreme surfing.   Yet another there was cage fighting, and on the fourth screen, curling.

Curling

As in football, the runner is not down until the knee touches.

 

Without fail, on every shot, the curler would get down on one knee immediately and stay long enough to string together a pitch for charity, world peace, an end to the chicken dance, and for their rock to land on the button at the other end of the rink.

You may think my bar-mates were also praying that they would not to die before they woke at the end of the game, but you would be mistaken.    Despite touchdown passes hurtling through the air, sharks tearing into surfboards, fighter bits oozing through the grills of their cage, all eyes were wide open, riveted solely on the curlers madly swiffing the ice in front of a rock rumbling  down to its target at about 4 miles per hour.

Curling_on_a_lake_in_Dartmouth,_Nova_Scotia,_Canada,_ca._1897

A devout congregation.

 

This past summer the whole issue had come to a head at the NFL where rules are to flag any “excessive” celebration that might taunt an opponent to explode into a melted pool of plastic.

So in practice, it turns out that one-knee prayers are okay, but two-knee prayers are excessive.   Hence the curlers slip in under this definition.

chris-johnson-flagged-for-praying-or-celebrating-too-much

“Chris, we’re just in warm up.”

 

It is also worthy of note that curling is a game built on contemplation.   In addition to allowing the near glacial speed of the stone, the curlers themselves have up to four minutes to “think” about their shot… which I suspect is separate from praying.

Womens_Curling_Team_Denmark

“You notice they never have blue ones?”

 

This is all well and good that comparisons between the two sports reveal their differences but we would never expect to cross-pollinate the two.

After all, football doesn’t use brooms, and curlers don’t spike the stone.

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