The Driveway Dream

For a number of Canadian kids growing up in the 1980’s like I did, hockey was life.

In the days before Nintendo and the Internet, I would spend hours playing street hockey with my friends.  I would keep scrapbooks with stats of my favourite players.  A lot of my love of reading is probably due to the number of hockey books I devoured while in elementary school.  When I was growing up, we played with our hockey cards – we didn’t keep them in plastic sleeves as investments.  Playing with them included everything bending them to simulate games we’d just watched to drawing moustaches on the players we didn’t like.  (My cousin in Calgary tells the story of how he disliked Wayne Gretzky so much that he ripped up probably a dozen Wayne Gretzky rookie cards in the early 1980’s.  Those are now worth worth a few hundred bucks each and a mint card can go for quite a bit more!)

I started playing Beginner ice hockey (now called Tyke) when I was five and continued until Bantam when I was fourteen.  At that point, hockey was becoming more competitive and coaches were having to make decisions about which players got more ice time and which got less rather than the “everyone plays” approach that they’d followed up to that point.  It was pretty clear that I would have trouble making the local senior men’s team let alone to the NHL so I decided to hang up my skates.  At least temporarily.

A few years later, while living in Luther College dorms at the University of Regina, a buddy told me about a group of guys that played hockey every Friday night.  I decided to give it a go and after begging, borrowing and buying a new set of gear, I joined their team.

At first, it was just shinny for whoever showed up (we were just happy if we could get two goalies out!)  Over time, the team became a bit more organized and starting playing other beer league teams around the city – now following a schedule set at the start of the season.  This meant we would play a mid-week game at another team’s rink then at our own rink on Fridays.

Thinking back to this time, I’m reminded of a story my current boss tells.  When his son was starting hockey in and he was going to be coaching, he asked a local man who had five sons, all of whom had played hockey and some of which had been fairly successful, for tips.   The old timer had replied, “Your goal as a coach is to make sure that when those kids are 40 and fat, sitting in a dressing room and having a beer with the boys after a midnight game, that they’re as happy and satisfied as they can be.”

That pretty much sums up how I look at those years of rec hockey – lots of fun, lots of laughs and even the occasional beer!  (I still devour hockey books and a great one on this subject is “Midnight Hockey” by Bill Gaston.)

When we moved to Calgary, allowing me to sample the atmosphere of an NHL city and see what having a team can do for civic pride (plus even get to a few Flames games myself), I ended up not playing any rec hockey.  This was partly because I didn’t want to join a team where I didn’t know anyone, partly because I’d been told it would be more expensive than the $5/game and $2/beer I paid in Regina and mostly because I didn’t have room for my equipment in the apartment (and later condo) we lived in.  Or even if I did, the smell probably would’ve caused Shea to divorce me before we ever got married!

When we finally got permanently settled back in Regina after year-long stops in London, Ontario and Weyburn, Saskatchewan, I looked up my old team and found they were still playing.  Unfortunately, a few things had changed – their ice time was now on a Thursday meaning that was two nights a week when I would have to get up and go to work after a late night game instead of one.  The cost had gone up.  The team no longer brought beer into the dressing room.  And somehow in five or six short years, I’d gone from being one of the (relatively) skilled and in-shape young guys on a team full of out-of-shape dads and divorcees with professions, mortgages and many other obligations in their lives to being…well, pretty much exactly that myself.

Plus, after years of playing hockey with a bunch of guys who could barely skate, hardly control where they shot the puck and occasionally took to the ice after consuming beverages before the game rather than after – all without serious injury – breaking my leg during a game a couple years ago made a decision for me.  I would take another break (no pun intended) from hockey.  My timing was pretty good – I bumped into the team’s unofficial manager earlier this year and he said the team had ended up disbanding due to lack of interest from a lot of the guys.

Of course I haven’t ruled out playing hockey again someday if the right circumstance arrives (hmm, would I be able to get enough interest to start a library team?  That could be as disastrous as our city league softball team!)  But until then, I’m happy to bang a ball around in the driveway or in our downstairs hallway with Pace using the net and sticks I bought him for his first birthday (gotta start ’em young!)

I can’t wait until Pace is a little older and I can watch him in out the kitchen window, living the same driveway dream I did as a kid.  I can still see the sequence in my head like the climactic scene from a well-loved movie:  “Potvin to Trottier.  Over to Bossy.  Fake shot and drop to Hammond – he shoots, he scores!”, slapping the rolling tennis ball into an empty net.

In the dream, it’s always game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals.  It’s always me scoring the winning goal.  It’s always me raising the Cup over my head.  And then I retrieve the tennis ball and do it again.  And again.  And again.

No matter what happens, tonight will be special as forty-odd guys all have a chance to make their own driveway dreams come true for real.

Go Bruins Go!

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