Remember the Royals

Hockey was our real religion: road hockey, ball hockey, ice hockey, everything hockey. We played on the streets. We played on the Church parking lot across from my house. We played in the schoolyard. We played just about anywhere there was a relatively flat surface. The protestant schoolyard was probably the best venue of all because they had a plethora of paved areas in which to play.  Ideally one also wanted a concrete backstop behind the net such that one wouldn’t have to run so far to retrieve the ball once it had been shot toward but wide of the net.  Sticks, a ball, a couple of nets but failing that four quashed milk cartons would make fine goal posts for us.  Not too shabby.  I can also remember spending hours in the basement trying upon all hell to build a hockey net but to no avail. It was just too damn difficult at the time lacking the necessary wood, the nails, a proper hammer and the requisite carpentry skills. Pop? Forget it. He was upstairs watching TV.  We were on our own in those days.  Our parents were too busy making a living and recuperating at the end of the day to worry much about us.

We belonged to the Knights of Columbus Hockey League.  It was the league of choice, the only league tied to our parish, our diocese, our church. Sponsors of this league included the Whynot Funeral Home and Undertakers; the Parish Priest’s Benevolent Fund for Retired Nuns; Assumption Cemetery and Crematorium; and the infamous Holy Roller’s Hockey Team. Team colours were generally green, white, crimson and purple – the four colours of the Liturgical Apocalypse. We had no choice but all kids being kids we couldn’t wait to get our uniforms adorned with our favourites: 14: Keon; 27: Mahovolich; 4: Kelly; 9 Maurice “Rocket” Richard; or 9: Gordie Mr. “Hockey” Howe.  Boy oh boy we were proud of those sweaters and our own personal number preferences of our hockey heroes.  We wore those uniforms day and night – much to the chagrin of our parents and teachers.  Sister Mary Bernice in particular wasn’t impressed but she let it go.

We didn’t wear helmets when I first started to play.  We also played on outside rinks. There were no indoor, artificial ice surfaces for grass roots hockey leagues such as the Knights of Columbus in those days. That was not good, especially for our parents because the parents of the losing team had to go out and clean the ice surface after each game.  Not nice.  While it may have seen that our parents, our fans, were yelling phrases of encouragement for our skill, our prowess and our ability on the ice during the game they definitely had an ulterior motive for their enthusiasm. It weren’t us I can tell you.  For it was damn cold standing there watching us kids play and the last thing they wanted to do at the end of the game was to go out on that cold, blanketed sheet of ice to clear off the snow, the slush, and sometimes, the blood in preparation for the next game.  The winners?  There was no mercy for they laughed and they cajoled, ribbing the losing team’s dads for the effort that was soon to befall them…