A sure sign that fall has arrived is the opening of local ice rinks.
I guess the exception is Keremeos, where it’s a sure sign that winter has arrived, given the schedule for this community’s ice rink.
Around the time the South Okanagan Events Centre opened up, I decided to get back into the game of hockey.
I thought that with the extra ice surfaces in Penticton finding a team to play on would be easy, because for players of my calibre, that can sometimes be a tough thing.
I didn’t start playing the game until I was 15 years old – never really paid any attention to it until the first Canada – Russia hockey series in 1972 when Paul Henderson scored the game – and series winner with 34 seconds left in the game.
I was totally inspired by that, and naively thought I could strap on a pair of skates and go play with the rest of the boys who had been in the game since they were five.
Forty years later, I’m still trying.
Never having been particularly skilled athletically, it didn’t help to take up a game like hockey at a time in one’s life when one should have long ago grasped the fundamentals of the game.
The house league team I played on a year later won the Midget category championship – in spite of having me on the team. I got a trophy when my contribution was a total of three goals in the whole season – as a left winger.
Still, I developed a passion for the game from that first summit series, and over the years have played wherever and whenever I could.
With all those ice sheets in Penticton, I still couldn’t find a game. I eventually went south of town to Oliver, where about 30 older guys had put together a kind of pick up game every week.
Generally it’s the same 15 – 20 guys turning out every week to play old timers’ hockey.
It has turned out to be the type of game that suits me.
The players come from all skill levels, and widely varying age groups. Physical play is tightly controlled (the few guys that insisted on lining up at the blue line to knock opposing players out of the arena have been asked not to come back), and while there is competitive spirit, the first and only requirement of play is to have fun.
Over the years, my skill level never really did increase; I still can’t stickhandle, or carry the puck. Receiving passes are a pretty iffy thing, too.
Based on that description, you’re probably wondering why I’m taking up space on the ice.
Since joining the Oliver guys, I seemed to have found an aspect of the game I can do reasonably well in.
Following in the skate glides of the team’s better players, there’s often second chances to score if one can position himself properly in front of the net.
In fact, at this stage of the game, it’s surprising how many second chances there are. In the confusion of a failed breakaway, or some other honest goal scoring attempt lies an opportunity for the team “garbageman” to try and finish the play.
That’s where I come in – technical skills would be an asset, but are not completely necessary.
I was talking to an old high school buddy a year or so ago, who also took to the game later in life – even later than myself.
“I just crash the net,” he laughed when describing his play. “If the puck squirts loose, I’m there to shovel it in the net.”
It might not be pretty to watch, but that’s okay too – it’s not like there’s a capacity crowd in the Oliver arena – at least, not when we’re playing.