In chatting yesterday with Brenton Balvin, I reminisced a bit about my life as a hockey rink rat from about 5 years old through high school. We had a pond near our house in Eagan and I pretty much lived there all winter. We built our own warming house, fully equipped with a pot-bellied stove. It was classic pick-up hockey, also known as pond or shinny hockey:
There are no formal rules or specific positions, and generally, there are no goaltenders. The goal areas at each end may be marked by nets, or simply by objects, such as blocks of snow, stones, etc. Bodychecking and lifting or “roofing/reefing/raising the puck” (shooting the puck or ball so it rises above the ice) are often forbidden because the players are not wearing protective equipment.
I went to grade school as St. Peter’s Catholic School in Mendota where we had enough hockey players to have intramural leagues. Raising the puck was allowed, and we had goalies, but bodychecking wasn’t common and I don’t remember any fights.
I went to high school at Nazareth Hall seminary in Aden Hills, MN where we could not only skate on Lake Johanna, but where we had full responsibility for maintaining the ice for two hockey rinks (with lights!). We had giant hoses for flooding and dozens of shovels for keeping the rinks snow-free. Although our class was small (I graduated in 1967 in a class of 33) we had enough good players to field a team that played some of the other teams in the Central Catholic Conference (St. Agnes, Hill, Benilde, Cretin, St. Thomas, St. Bernard’s, DeLasalle). We finished 4-5 my senior year. I loved it. Again, bodychecking was allowed but it was uncommon, especially along the boards since they were only hip high on the outdoor rinks. I don’t remember any fights.
By the time my three sons were old enough to skate here in Northfield (early 80s), I became unhappy with direction hockey was taking. Pick-up hockey was losing ground to organized hockey, even for the youngest kids. Parents were getting up early to haul their kids to the indoor arena and spending their weekends hauling their kids to games and tournaments around the state. I was disappointed to see how much time and money was required and secretly hoped the boys never got interested in playing. Thankfully, they didn’t.
I quit watching (in person or on TV) pro hockey long ago because of the fighting. (Olympic hockey was an exception.) The recent four-part NY Times series on Derek Boogard, Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer and the recent incidents of devastating injuries of high schoolers on bodychecks from behind have served to reinforce my beliefs that great sport hockey has gone bad.
But then when I consider the youngsters playing pond hockey with the oldsters on the pond by my house a couple weeks ago, I think, Maybe hockey can be saved. How? I have no idea.