The crowd roared as the intrepid goalie made another spectacular save. The blaring music filled the arena as people settled back down into their seats. The score was 8-0 for the home team and every shot made on their favourite goalie sent screams resonating throughout the cold, steel structure of the arena.
Could this be possible, the home team actually getting a shutout against a far superior team? Yep, it’s possible if you import key players from exotic places like Chisasibi and Waskaganish.
For a moment, as I looked over the roster, I got a little confused. Hey, isn’t that the Hunter forward on this team. How about that defense dude from Waskaganish? What about the former NHLer from Mohawk territory? Say, what’s that Inuit guy doing on the other team?
Yep, when it comes to small-town hockey tourneys, it seems that anyone can play for you, as long as you got enough bucks and home-town excitement to draw another good player from wherever, you got a team that can lick any other team. Perhaps I should go back in time to when teams were picked based on religion and schools.
It used to be the Roman Catholics versus the Anglicans. Being Anglican (which is another story), practice meant playing outside for endless hours until either the outdoor light would be switched off or our body parts were frozen solid. Either way, it was practice for the big games played most often at the Roman side.
The competition was fierce, as both sides invested heavily in their outdoor rinks and kept them spic and span and clear of snow. However, the R.C. Mission had actual benches with roofs for the team so playing there was like playing in the hallowed Montreal Forum.
The fans were just as enthusiastic, yelling, cheering, booing and occasionally spitting out their support. Sometimes, in the heat of the game, a spectator would fall from the high packed snow onto the ice, causing interference and good entertainment for everyone. Of course, there were crowd pleasers, like Hugo from Waskaganish. He scored in the first three seconds from the drop of the puck in the second period, awing everyone for decades – well, at least me.
The teams were made up mainly of inlanders (now called La Grande), coastal guys (of James Bay coast), islanders (us guys from Fort George Island) and residence kids (both French and English). Age didn’t really matter as some guys took a little longer to finish and were big guys with hair on their chests and happened to be the best players. So in many ways, we were glad they didn’t study so hard at school.
One nice thing is that fighting was rare, but good, hard checking was an acceptable practice. The passing was passable, but given the circumstances, every play was a good play and that made that good hockey. Outdoor rink hockey seems to be a distant past. Now entrance fees, food fairs, ticket draws, 24-hour tournaments and large cash prizes draw in more spectators. This is a good thing though, as hockey is a good sport and fun to watch.