Offering Thanks for Yesterday's Hockey

Dear Robert,

Before you sit down in Portland with your family Thursday to give thanks for all the important blessings in your life, can I slip in a little appreciation for the hockey of yesterday.

I watched the Canucks’ two games over the weekend -I know, losing 7-1 to the ChiHawks and at home yet, was depressing. However thinking about you and your country’s Thanksgiving holiday made me think about how  lucky we were to have played and seen 20th century hockey.

You in Boston and I in Hamilton had it great every winter. I remember you telling me about the outdoor rinks in the Beantown suburb of Belmont. You said how the winters were colder and there was no thaw until March. You and your buddies would brag for ‘hood bragging props and before/after talk about Orr’s incredible end-to-ender or Espo’s snapping his trademark wrist shot in from the slot.

In my southern Ontario hood, we would walk to the local baseball park where outdoor rinks were put up each winter. In our familiar way – skates fitted through the blade of the stick and the stick slung over the shoulder, we looked forward to hockey under the blue sky. There would be about 10 games of shinny going on at the same time on one sheet of ice. The ‘bigger’ kids, i.e. teens, would play end to end and there would about 9 games going side to side of ‘little’ kids. Interestingly, there were very few collisions, a testimony, i guess, to the old school puck commandment of keeping your head up during the game.

I know you told me how accessible the players were then. You said Phil Esposito showed up one day in your Boston neighborhood hawking some merchandise and signed all the kids’ autographs that wanted one. My hockey buddy Bentley, who grew up in the shadow of the Canucks’ old barn the Coliseum, told me the other day a cool post practice Canucks’ story. Canucks’ winger Bobby Schmautz – yes, I remember how he flourished when was traded to your Bruins – came out of the rink and Bentley and his elementary school buddy asked for his autograph, which he gave the boys. He then gave him and his friend a lift to their school in his car. Innocent era. He regaled them with details of a couple of his favorite NHL goals.

Today the players are screened from their fans on their way to and from the rink. The cars aren’t like Schmautz’ family station wagon and they certainly don’t give autographs if you happen to bump into one of them.

Well, when you’re biting into that drumstick, lift it up for a second and give thanks we were able to experience that old-time puck religion if only for a little while.

Cono Spitale


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