Monday, January 09, 2012
Pond Hockey-Part One
For those of us who have grown up in northern climes, we can be excused if our eyes mist a little when we think about pond hockey. South of the border, the fifth annual Winter Classic hockey game has just taken place in Philadelphia. The Rangers snuck by the Flyers, with Henrik Lundqvist thwarting a last desperate penalty shot attempt by Daniel Briere of the Flyers.
They carted away the Zamboni from Citizens Bank Park, leaving the field in the hands of the grounds crew to prepare it for Phillies baseball in April.
The National Hockey League is tickled with the results. Television ratings were the highest for any NHL game thus far this season. The place was sold to the rafters for the game, and also for the special veterans’ tilt the day before, when Mark Messier got another chance to intimidate the opposition. Fans carted home bags of souvenirs.
Bean counters estimate that the game is worth more than twenty-five million dollars to the host city. Consequently, the league has booked the game with the television networks until 2021.
Steve Rushin writes for Sports Illustrated on the internet. (si.com). He wrote about the game, but took exception with the concept. His idea of a “winter classic’ is the game played on a pond, under the lights of a ’72 Dodge Dart. Only one puck, and that requires a stoppage in play while players thrash away at the snowbanks with their sticks to locate the black beauty. No Zambonis, just shovels. Rubber boots for goal posts. No “raisers” and definitely no slapshots!
One of the first outdoor games involving NHL teams took place near Detroit. The Wings played an exhibition game against the inmates at the Marquette Branch Prison. Gordie Howe and company led the cons 18-0 at the end of the first period. They put away their pencils at that point.
The Florida Panthers recently took the opportunity to play a little hockey on an outdoor facility in central park in New York. A few years ago, Marc Crawford, the coach of the Vancouver Canucks, arranged for the team to play a little pickup hockey on the harbor in Belleville, Ontario. They were, however, at the mercy of the elements. It snowed so hard that it was difficult to see the puck, even between your own skates!
In his recently released compilation of hockey columns entitled “Wayne Gretzky’s Ghost”, Roy MacGregor shares several looks at outdoor hockey. It might have been in the Gretzky back yard, in Brantford, where all of Walter’s children learned the game. It could have been on the Bay of Quinte, where the Hulls first took up the game. It may have been the ice beside the barn in Viking, Alberta, where six Sutter brothers learned enough about the game to earn a ticket to play in the National Hockey League. Gordie Howe took his first skate in Floral, Saskatchewan, on a pond, outdoors.
There are thousands of locations in the Northern Hemisphere that were ideal for outdoor hockey. Certainly, the rivers and ponds and lakes in Northern Europe have produced some fine stick handlers over the years. I once chatted with Borje Salming about his pre NHL days in Sweden. He acknowledged the value of the outdoor facility. Ditto I am sure for Finland, and Russia. And the harbors in Wellington and Picton as well.
Bobby Orr recognized the importance of the outdoor surface in a written foreword to a collection of essays about the game: the backyard rink is, in his opinion, “the heart and soul of hockey”.
There will be scenes of another famous outdoor skating facility as we approach the NHL All Star game in Ottawa. The Rideau Canal was once described as the “longest skating rink in the world”. It has been there for almost two hundred years, and has seen its share of shinny.
I am sure that Lord Stanley himself witnessed a game or two on the canal. There are a few Senator fans who would like to see his silverware on display, for a year or so, in their fair city. Likely not in the cards for a year or two.
January 8, 2012