In Search of Better Stories

Old Men, Beer League, and the Joy of Hockey

     I have bruised ribs; one of them might even be cracked. It hurts to breathe. One knee aches, the other isn’t working as it should, its wobbliness is a cause for concern, but right now, I don’t care. I’m happy.

     For decades the smell of a fresh sheet of ice mingled with the aroma of sports equipment in need of a wash has been calling me in. I know I’ve had a total hip replacement, three knee surgeries, a broken wrist and a bunch of teeth knocked out, but still, I resist the thought of hanging up the skates for good.

     I feel the familiar burn on my fingers as I lace up my skates one more time. There’s laughter and camaraderie in the locker room. Yes, it’s the championship game, but it’s beer league. We all know it’s not the Stanley Cup. Brad, our fearless leader, gives us a short speech that has us all laughing.

It’s game time!

     The music is pumping as we take to the ice. A few dozen fans from both teams give us a raucous welcome. The time clock is set, the ref blows the whistle, the puck drops, and the game is on. In a flash, we older ones forget our age; we forget the troubles and frustrations of our lives as we focus on the sheer joy of playing this game. Our defenceman sees me breaking hard to open ice and zips the puck over to me. I cross the blue line at full speed and cut to the outside, firing a snapshot toward the net — it’s in! What a start!

     Back and forth the game goes. This is the only sport where old men can still move at a reasonably fast pace! My heart is pounding, and sweat drips off every part of my body. The refs have put their whistles away for this game, so it feels like a war out there.

     I have the puck again, I’m a step ahead of their defenseman, but he is closing fast on me. I try a power move cutting hard towards the net, intending to use the force of the cut to eliminate the threat from the defenceman and put myself in a good scoring position. As I execute the move, I hear a yell from behind me. The defenseman, like Tarzan, launches himself toward me, his body colliding with mine. I feel pain prick at both my knee and my ribs. His effort to stop me succeeds as the puck drifts just wide of the goal. As pain shoots up and down my back, I wonder if I should head to the dressing room, but the competitor in me will not allow it.

     We yell, we cheer, and we encourage each other. This is a gritty, hard, fought contest. Even though we have some young guns on our team, our opponents are much younger, and they have no desire to lose to the old guys. We have the lead, but they are pushing back hard. Our goalie stands tall.

      I find myself in front of their net with the puck. In the mad scramble, in front of the crease, I fall to the ice, but from my backside, I can see that the puck is still loose. I swing wildly at it, and it squirts through the goalie’s pads and into the net. Our small crowd goes wild. Excited teammates mob me, and for a second, we all imagine we are pros playing in the Stanley Cup finals.

We are now only one period away from our second straight championship, but can we hold on? We all dig down as deep as we possibly can. We summon up the last vestiges of our old man strength. Our years of experience kick in. We know what to do. This mighty, unified effort in common cause is good for our souls! The clock ticks down to zero. We win! Equipment flies in the air, and the bench clears as we race out to congratulate our goalie and give three cheers for our worthy opponents. After the handshake line, its medals, championship hats and, of course, the big trophy! We all hug, high five and pose for pictures. We’ve done it again—two years in a row. The feeling of accomplishment, success, and teamwork wash away the pain of bumps and bruises for the moment.

We are happy; we’ve worked hard, had a tonne of fun all season long, and won.

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