Peter Recalls the Charm of a Canadian Childhood – Playing in Traffic

Some time ago, I wrote about my successful quest to acquire a goalie stick. Some of you are probably wondering what I did with it once I got it. Well, careful what you wish for…….

The morning after I had picked it up, I taped up my new stick with black fabric based electrical tape and rushed out the door onto Franklin Street to see my friends. We had a street hockey team, which we had named “The Franklin Street Flyers”. Normally the team was composed of 4 players, unless there was a boy visiting his “NaNa” for the weekend, in which case we dubbed him a temporary, acting unpaid Franklin Street resident for the duration of the day. Because of our limited numbers, the team was a melange of players with no clearly defined offensive or defensive roles. Only one of our hardy little quartet/quintet had a regular fixed position, and I was that lucky stiff. As the goaltender, I was the last line of defense, Horatius at the bridge, I was where the puck stopped. I avidly read books about the science of goaltending in an attempt to equip myself to fulfill this vital position. 

As the goalie, my primary job was to “stop the puck” and keep our team in the game until they could start scoring goals in bunches, hence ensuring our victory. A second, nearly as important task, was to scan the street for oncoming traffic and provide a warning to the other players. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t give you a background on “road hockey”. It was a triumph of minimalism, piles of snow standing in for the nets. This meant that a “goal” would not be retained by any net, but would instead roll down the street until it was retrieved. (The rule was that if you scored the goal, you chased the ball.) An advantage of having snow piles was that they were easily replaced should a car run them over. I can’t remember any arguments about whether or not a goal counted, we rarely kept score and we played until we were tired. It was a wonderful opportunity to function without any adult supervision or interference. We would play all afternoon, go have dinner and then play again until the hockey game started on television. In those simple days, Franklin Street had only two streetlights, although shortly thereafter the pair were replaced by light poles which reminded me of the stalks of the alien spacecraft in “War Of The Worlds”. 

As far as my personal protective equipment was concerned, it was minimal. I had a regular hockey glove on my “stick hand” and my faithful baseball glove did double duty, allowing me to catch shots directed at our goal. ( In theory, anyway.) I am grateful that my knees can’t read, they would be greatly distressed to know that I would play hockey all day long with no padding between them and the tarmac save my jeans. Thankfully I have no long term pain issues in that particular area.

There was no other padding of any kind on my body, no chest protector, no mask either. Thankfully we didn’t use an actual hockey puck while playing on the road, making additional padding superfluous. What we used was a tennis ball. Not just any tennis ball either, Loyal Reader, but a “well used” tennis ball, far removed from the pristine condition in which it had left the assembly line. After “serving”, (see what I did there  😉 ) its time on the court and then lying neglected in a corner of the garage, we would press it into service.

The fabric covering would now be a drab shade of ecru and would often be torn, if not missing completely. The sad condition of the ball would make it rather difficult to see as it came at you, and I can remember its sodden impact when it did hit me, often having picked up slush and/or salt and/or dirt and/or ice water during its journey from the opposing player’s stick blade to the goal. Good times, my friends.

As part of our pre game preparations, we would collect a number of tennis balls and put them in a safe place, to be employed as needed, which could occur without warning. (I still remember one morning when my team was taking “warm up shots” on me. One ball rolled past the “net” and was promptly grabbed by someone’s dog, who then took off toward Forest Avenue, resulting in a small delay before the start of the game. As I recall, we let the dog keep his “treasure”, because he was a big dog and was mean.

Once the game began there was a flurry of activity, which proceeded generally uninterrupted unless one of the players got temporarily called away to help carry in their family’s groceries or perform some other domestic task. The rest of the players would wait “patiently” until the errant individual could return to their post, at which point the game would resume.

Here’s a few memories of game action from longer ago than I care to remember, but you may find them funny. One night I was watching the hockey game on TV and saw a goalie catch a shot, skate to the net, toss the puck into the air and bat it off the boards using his stick. The kid in me was excited and impressed. I thought it was really cool and I looked forward to the opportunity to do it myself. Sure enough, I got the chance the very next Saturday. I caught a shot, tossed it in the air and batted it with my stick. My youthful zeal had gotten the better of me, however. For one thing, there were no boards behind me to retain the ball. Even more egregiously, I had omitted to ensure that I was at the side of my net, and far from executing a fancy play, I had actually scored on my own net.

Mouth agape, I watched the ball skitter down Franklin Street. Turning my head, I saw one of my teammates standing in front of the net. His face was a fascinating combination of “I can’t believe what I just saw” and “If you weren’t the only one stupid enough to play goal, I would pound you silly!” In a natural desire to remove myself from the immediate situation, I took off after the errant ball, chirping unnecessarily over my shoulder that I would “get it!” As I recall, the rest of the game was relatively quiet, but I was eventually forgiven.

You would have thought that I had learned my lesson, however, I didn’t, as this later incident proves. Someone took a shot at our goal which was going over my head. All I had to do was leave it alone, I wouldn’t even have to chase after it. Simple, right???

Well, I decided to demonstrate my impressive “reach” with my faithful stick. Reaching up as far as I could and going up on my tiptoes, I could just reach it. Loyal Reader, I can still see it. The ball, intercepted in flight, hit my stick, rolled down the shaft, down my arm, over my shoulder and into the net. And yes, I “got it”.

I really enjoyed playing road hockey with my friends. We rarely kept score, but experienced the highs and lows of the game, sometimes making a good play, sometimes not making a good play. The result didn’t seem to matter as much as the exercise. It’s funny, but I never remember my parents asking me if we had won when we played. They did, however, always ask if we had had fun, one of many valuable lessons they taught us. 

On my right wrist, I have a small “v-shaped” scar, souvenir of a game from the distant past when an opponent had a small nail in the blade of his stick. This measure was necessary because his stick was cracked and his parents couldn’t afford to get him a new one. I bear no malice towards him, it was just a part of the times. And in a way, I was lucky. Remember I mentioned reading books about goaltending? Well, I read the biography of a National Hockey League goalie who grew up during the Great Depression.

As money was extremely tight, when they played, they would use frozen horse manure as the “puck”. The players would follow a horse around the village until the horse lifted its tail, “…signifying the beginning of a puck making event…” as the author so charmingly described it. The “puck” would be frozen, then put into play as required during the game. If the goalie was hit in the face with a “puck”, he was given 2 minutes to brush his teeth. At least I never had to do that. 

See you soon 

=PJM=

A confirmed Cat person, Peter dabbled with being a water boy, a paper boy and an altar boy before finally settling on a career with the Canadian federal government.  Once, in his youth, he ate a Dutch  oven full of mashed potatoes to win a 5 cent bet with his beloved sister Mary’s boyfriend. (Of course he was much younger and a nickel went a lot farther!))

He has retired to palatial “Chez Montreuil”, which he shares with his little buddy CoCo the Fashionable. He is blessed to have the beautiful Betty in his life. He is not only a plastic aircraft modeller, but a proud “rivet counter”. Military aviation and live music are among other interests of his, and he tries to get out to as many shows as he can. He will be here for your enlightenment whenever the stars align. Profile photo courtesy of Pat Blythe, caricature courtesy of Peter Mossman.

2 Responses to “Peter Recalls the Charm of a Canadian Childhood – Playing in Traffic”

  1. Your tale brought up memories. Once watching my son play goal in a ball hockey Winter Festival a ball came flying through the air and knocked out my front tooth. Another time running down a basketball court I could hear people yelling Marlene. I thought they were as excited as I was to score in my quest. Turns out I was running at my own net and scored LOL.
    I ‘m sure warm memories for you Peter!

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Thank you so much! I am always happy to help others rekindle memories. This column was particularly fun to write.

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