Friday, January 02, 2004

A Night of Legends – Velvet Lounge Story #2

It’s 9pm and the night has just begun. Super G is in a cantankerous mood – as usual – when we meet up at the Bishop and Belcher for the customary few pints of Keith’s and a basket of fries. After a few minutes, Funk Doctor B and Mr. Gairns arrive to complete the quartet and we head out into a slapdash downtown Toronto Saturday night with one mission in mind. Complete with various hockey jerseys, sticks and skates slung over our shoulders, we walked down Queen Street four abreast. While unsaid, the four of us felt like we were beginning some sort of Canadian epic – equivalent to a legion heading into battle with the dreaded Celts. But alas, this is Canada… and such things usually go unnoticed. Rave kids dutifully part in our wake as we lumber along in our skateguards.

Passing Osgoode Hall, it becomes visible… first the looming arches and then the bright white glow of the pond. The square is suprisingly silent, the cool, damp drizzle having shied away the unworthy I suppose. Tossing a bag of pucks on the ice we take flight on the flawless clear glass. Passing back and forth reminds me of the countless hours spent on the pond back home on the farm. Remember Busher Jackson? If there is peace on earth, this is it… right here in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the biggest city of the land.

The game does that to you. At its core, the game is not a sport of warriors as is so often portrayed, but a pastoral pastime meant to brighten the infinite dour of our endless winter. The quiet of the blades against the ice, the call for the ‘pass’ and the toque tight against your head remind you of what truly is good and important in the world. Its simplicity and perfection block out the trials and troubles of ones life – if only for a little while.

However, the game has become seized from within. Rampant competitiveness and greed have altered the game into something it was never meant to be. Young children spend summers in hockey school and winters at tournaments from Moncton to Saskatoon. Rabid parents curse imaginary wrongs against their children by other 10-year-olds. Gone is the finesse, respect and natural talent earned on the ponds of old, replaced with the brute force, ‘systems’ and mind-numbing Top40 swill of today’s ‘entertainment’. These kids all seem to be robots who all play the same techniques and shoot the same way, taught at some nameless hockey ‘school’ by some macho who played one game in the NHL as a bruiser.

The rain slowly turns to flakes as the temperature dips and soon the ice is alive with numerous pick-up games of shinny. Super G puts a wobbly would-be pass through the legs of Dr. B. and the game is won. Tired out and after 3 a.m., I wearily hop aboard the Queen Car for home, happy and content.

Busher Jackson? Once the greatest star on the greatest team that Toronto ever produced, he ended up a pauper selling used sticks outside of Maple Leaf Gardens to make ends meet. Let us hope the game is not resigned to the same fate.

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