I Miss the Boys of Winter | JIM FURLONG

I was out on Three Island Pond a few weeks ago for a skate with my family and skating was very difficult for me. I am approaching 78 with the “best before date” looking at me – at least from a skating perspective. Anyone who says age is only a number doesn’t bloody well know what they are talking about. Age matters on many levels.

To even get out on the pond I had to go up to the attic and get my CCM hockey bag. It was filled with memories. I was never an elite hockey player. The school I attended, which was St. Bon’s, was blessed with hockey players. When Brother Rice opened the hockey teams were even stronger. Hockey never really started until I played recreation hockey for Arts at Memorial University. It was a team not to be confused with the varsity MUN squad. Recreational hockey then became my home for more than 50 years.

There were pickup games at the St. Bon’s Forum with a crowd from Carter’s Hill. They were mostly St. Pat’s boys. We had a Friday evening skate. That went on for years and after that I played with NTV in the Finance League at Prince of Wales Arena. How NTV ended up in a Finance League I’ll never know. Our team, the NTV Apaches also did charity hockey around the province. We played hockey dads or local councils and all we wanted was a few beers and something to eat after the game. We played in Marystown and Harbour Grace and all over the place. I loved it.

When I moved in the 1970s to Conception Bay I donned the uniform of Ron’s Texaco. I still have the uniform but it doesn’t fit anymore. That must be that material from the ‘70s that shrunk. That was in an over-30 recreation league. Later in that same league I was part of another team that was from a plumbing and heating company. The best player I ever played with there was Wally McDonald a former St. FX captain and St. Bon’s star. He was great. He could SEE the game, as I always say. I played in that league until I was 40.

Then I was back to a late-night skate at St. Bon’s. We played four on four because the rink was so small. That group started as a Department of National Defence skate decades ago but evolved over the years. I said they became the Department of NO Defence. Adrian Smith, another St. Bon’s man, skated with us a couple of times. There was also a Church of England minister.

After that NTV had ice time at Mile One. That lasted a couple of seasons and then I landed at Mount Pearl at a different skate with a great bunch of guys. Some of them were from NTV and some weren’t. As time went on, I got slower. There is a saying in sports that you can beat anyone EXCEPT the timekeeper. That is so true. My doctor at the time suggested I give it up. I was in my 60s and the last skate was mid-afternoon weekdays with a bunch of older gentlemen at Twin Rinks.

You know I miss it all so much. I miss the game of hockey because it is so involving. When you open the gate and step on the ice the problems of the world vanish. There is no boss to bother you. There are no deadlines. There is no family. There are no obligations other than keep your stick on the ice and your head up. I miss the smell of the dressing room and I miss being tired after a game and having a beer. I even miss the sound of the Zamboni starting up telling us our hour was almost up. The manager at The Glacier would tell us “Last goal boys!”

At another rink we could bring beer to the dressing room but no tins. The rink attendants kept the empty bottles. They were stacked in a back room and at some point became their tip for service. When we got to the rink they would have a big garbage tin filled with ice shavings. It is all done now but I live in hope. Maybe there are rinks in Heaven. Maybe there will be a clean sheet of ice and all my old hockey mates will be there. There will be Billy G and Fox from Mundy Pond and Blueline Ray (Ray wouldn’t back check). The guy we called A535 will be on the ice. He always had lots of that A535 cream on him to relax his muscles and sore joints. The smell filled the dressing room. Also on the ice will be “the dirty bastard”. His name didn’t come from slashing or from spearing. Instead, it came from his habit of breaking wind during the game.

I miss all of that. It was great while it lasted. Driving home to Topsail in the night after a game is one of the best memories. It was hard on the body, and it was tiring, but I sure had fun and met some wonderful people in a lot of rinks in a lot of places.

You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]