Hockey Day in Canada

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

I'm back in London, back on the boat, and back to what might laughingly be described as my "normal life". (Who am I kidding?  If the last year is any indication, my normal life involves a large suitcase, a foreign city and a challenging production schedule.  Certainly not any kind of extended time in London!) However, before I pack my bags again or dive into the next boat project (troubleshooting a leaky cooling system for those who are keeping score...) I want to tell you about my New Year's activities.

But first, a gratuitous picture of winter splendour in Saskatoon, taken while on a Christmas Eve run. Excellent hoarfrost that day!

My sister and family live on a sort of charmed cul-de-sac that is improbably well-equipped with excellent neighbours, kids, friendly dogs, running paths, and not-too-far-distant coffee shops. I had a great visit with them that bookended my vacation, and allowed me to sleep in a lot, hang out with my niece, and do a bunch of the kind of shopping that works best when you've got access to a car, a lot of Boxing Day sales and a primary bank account in a currency with an absurdly favourable exchange rate.  (It's like everything is half price!)  The other thing I got to do is participate in their third annual Cul-de-Sac New Year's Day Road Hockey Tournament.

For my UK readers a short explanation may be needed.  Road hockey is, of course, hockey played on the road.  It’s most often played by kids on residential streets.  If you’re lucky, someone has actual hockey nets that get set up.  If not, any bit of stray equipment or clothing marks the goals at either end of a very loosely defined playing area.  Usually a ball - often a dead tennis ball - is used instead of a puck, since the road surface is not an ideal environment for optimum puck movement.  And because there’s no proper ice, it’s all running, no skating. At the start of play teams are chosen, sometimes by having all players throw their hockey sticks into a pile and then having two team captains pick sticks (and, by extension, the player who owns the stick) on the assumption that this sort of randomises the process.  Players come and go as dictated by inclination, outdoor light levels, and whether on not one is called home for supper or bedtime.  The most common cry heard is “Car!” indicating to all involved that they have to clear the road (and any nets, discarded mitts, unused equipment, unconscious companions, etc…) to allow a car to pass through the playing area before starting up again. Road Hockey is as Canadian as a moose soaked in maple syrup wearing a mountie hat and eating a Tim Horton’s donut while muttering “Cold enough for ya?".

But back to New Year’s Day, 2106.  Considering that the main impediment to a smooth-flowing road hockey game is the periodic interruption of play by through-traffic, astute Go Stay Work Play Live readers will of course realise that a cul-de-sac is a perfect venue for a good game. And with the family house located at the end of the cul-de-sac, providing an anchor and a place to set up the food (and the beer cooler), it’s not hard to see why this little annual event is in its third year.

This is the first time I’ve been around to participate, and I was keen to contribute to the experience.  I’m not sure how the idea came about, but I ended up running with the idea of painting lines on the packed snow covering the road so we could have a really upmarket playing surface.  (Again, for the less hockey-savvy reader: a regulation hockey ice surface is marked with a thick red line at centre, a blue off-side line on each side, and goal lines at each end.)  So while others were engaged in getting the fire pit and the food ready, my niece and I implemented what might have been the fanciest road hockey marks in the history of the game, including a red line, blue lines, corner marks, goal lines and, of course, an appropriately branded face off dot at centre.

The triumphant road marking team.  I was particularly pleased with the face off circle.  Next year we'll be seeking some sponsorship to up the game a bit.
 (Overhead scoreboard pending zoning permission.)  
(Contact for sponsorship opportunities.)

People gradually filtered in on foot, pulling sleds full of kids and sticks and goalie equipment. Others made several trips ferrying in a couple of proper nets.  And still others contributed food and a particularly pleasant “adult hot chocolate additive” that tasted suspiciously like peppermint schnapps.  And of course there was beer.  Because when you live in Canada and it's January, the world is your beer cooler.  In fact, I take back what I said about the maple moose above.  There is nothing more Canadian than a two-four of beers stuck in a snowbank.

Teams were picked, and play commenced with a ceremonial first face off.

Despite being the owner of several good Montreal Canadiens hockey sweaters, I didn't think to pack one with me, so happily accepted a vintage red Winnipeg Grasshoppers from about 1983. Perfect.  Teams were a pretty good mix of adults and kids, with team size ranging from four to about nine players on each side, which was a bit squishy at times on a small playing surface but somehow it just worked.  People came and went and we played each game until one team got up to five goals.  The weather was very cooperative, and it was sunny and clear and reasonably warm for most of the day.  I played three games and managed not to break anything, though I did end up taking one fall that reminded me pretty quickly that I'm in my mid-forties and haven't played in about five years and wasn't wearing any equipment. (And I did feel it the next day...) In between games there was time to chat and catch your breath and visit the concession stand.

And just like a real hockey game - the food stand was busiest between periods.  The hotdogs were the top pick, though there was also very nice chili and homemade buns (thanks Mom!)

We played three or four games in total, with adults and kids mixing together remarkably well. Grown-ups went after each other in good fun, and made sure the kids got every chance to shine as well.  Some people sat on the sidelines content to watch, we had a couple of shoot-outs, and were even witness to one really good temper tantrum to round out the day.  (To be fair, the kid had a good point.  Of course you can't take a rebound on a penalty shot.  On the other hand, it wasn't exactly the Stanley Cup Final, and I think perhaps someone might have been up a bit too late the night before...)  

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A piece of the action

The view from the Deluxe Corporate Box (A.K.A. Upstairs Bedroom)
(Naming rights available for 2017)

Play continued until about suppertime, when most of the people with small kids wandered off. That left a few people (and one dog) around the fire until past dark, and long after I'd given up and retreated for a nap and a hot shower.


And here’s another one of those things that makes me stop and consider what a lucky and very odd life I have.  On December 8th I was sitting with friends around an open fire in the desert, surrounded by camels and sand, chatting and enjoying good company.  On New Year’s Day I was sitting with friends around an open fire in the snow, surrounded by suburbia and hockey sticks, and enjoying more good company.  Lucky me.

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Cul-de-Sac New Year's Day Road Hockey 2016!


daphne said...

Lucky you indeed - you have a most interesting life. Although while there is a luck component, hard work, skill and a willingness to step outside the box helps!

Colleen said...

The range of locations and experiences in your life at amazing indeed! It's wonderful of you to share with those of us who lead pretty pedestrian lives. Great to see you on Boxing Day. So, what's the next project? Whatever it is, enjoy!

Kathryn said...

Love this post. Feeling homesick now.

Anonymous said...

What a great idea. the Road hockey game. Love your blog still. Great job on the painted lines.

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