The Predators were by no means slouches. All kinds of good hockey. Great stick play. So good, sticks were periodically bursting. Amazing goal tending by Lack. Lots of dropped pucks by both teams. The first two periods Canucks seemed to be just shooting in the direction of the goal while the Predators were actually getting more real shots on goal. Lack took one bullet right in the middle of his chest.
I’d got two tickets for the game at the Simon Frazer Robbie Burns Dinner, a fund raiser for the incredible Simon Frazer Pipe Band. It was terrific that the Canucks donated the tickets to that worthy event. I was glad to support Simon Frazer in the Silent Auction while winning a couple of hockey tickets to the greatest hockey team in the world.
Who to bring along? My Aim Simpeng, the gorgeous Thai PHD political genius had just married Marc Beaudry, the French Canadian businessmen extraordinaire. Aim must surely be hockey deficient whereas what French Canadian doesn’t love hockey? So I got another ticket and we made it a night.
Marc had indeed played goalie since three and only hung up his skates last year. Thailand meanwhile is not known for their hockey league. I told Aim that if the Jamaicans could have a bobsled team there was a possibility Thailand could sport a hockey team. Being Buddhist wasn't sure it would catch on like soccer has. Both Marc and I almost shouted her down when she said she wouldn’t want her children playing hockey because it’s so dangerous. Aim, we're in Canada. Really!
Jim Byrnes was truly amazing. He has the most magnificent voice. Hearing him sing blues and rock I never fully appreciated it until tonight. Hearing him sing the American Anthem and O Canada sent shivers up my spine.
The opening of this hockey game tonight was more like a rock concert than the old Don Cherry event we grew up on.
When the game began I was instantly nostalgically transported to the Laidlaws backyard in Fort Garry Manitoba. Each winter, Mr. Laidlaw ran water from the garden hose into the boarded areas where he raised his summer corn. Then all winter Kirk and I , starting age 5 years old when we became friend, along with all the other kids of our little neighbourhood would skate on that home made back yard rink.
When the his sisters and their girlfriends were skating we could only skate too. Girls didn't play hockey back then. They twirled a lot and stuff but they didn't play hockey. When the girls weren't around the sticks and pucks came out. We all had skates. Sticks for kids in early days were kind of crutches we could scuff at the puck with at risk of falling. We were pretty low to the ground already with our feet splayed out and knees almost on the rink.
We all loved NHL Hockey Night in Canada. First we listened to it on the radio then when we got tbs we all sat around as families watching it. So even if we didn't really look like much on the ice and fell a lot in our minds eyes as kids we were Rocket Richards. There was even a Bill Hay on the Chicago Blackhawks so I must skate like him since we shared our name. We had a lot of imagination as kids. By the time I gave up hockey as a teen, I could skate backwards and shoot the puck at the net but still couldn’t stop too good going forward or backwards.
The games when I was 10 to 12 were the best of all. We’d graduated to the community club league and I think I had shin pads and a cup and gloves. I explained to Aim that hockey gear was something that you collected over a lifetime back then. My dad never tired of telling my brother and he how they'd rolled up newspapers for knee pads when they were playing hockey as kids north of Swan River. Every Christmas was special because we might get a coveted piece of sports gear along with the perennial pyjamas and socks.
My brother had a Montreal Canadian sweater and I had a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater but because the gear was mostly second hand, the socks I got were blackhawks which was okay because of Bill Hay. All the kids has a pot pourri of teams. I don't remember anyone having a complete outfit from one hockey team. I didn’t even play hockey long enough to get shoulder pads or shorts. As a kid I played in jeans and a parka with that Maple Leaf Sweater over it. The hockey sweaters socks and everything were always bought so we'd grow into sometime when we were adults.
There was no indoor rink either.
Mom would walk my brother and I through the deep snow drifts and dark of night to the Fort Garry Community Club Rink. She’d pack Wagon Wheels for the trip home. Even now I tear to think of her love and those Wagon Wheels. In the club house there’d be a wood stove. We’d put on our skate there in the deathly cold. All us kids got frost bite some time too. I remember mom warming my toes by the fire one really bad winter when the game was finally called because too many of us kids were crying with a skates off trying to get our feet warm around that wood stove.
Some dad volunteered as a coach for each team of little boys. Boris Tyzek’s Dad and my Mom were often the only parents out on the coldest nights. Dad was often away working. Boris went onto a Rhodes Scholar and outstanding Lawyer whereas I, against all odds, became a physician. I think his dad and my mom cheering for us kids on those 40 below zero nights, at their kids hockey games made all the difference.
Then too my older brother, Ron, was always there. He was a real athlete. He could skate circles around us kids and actually stop without falling down first. The stars in those Winnipeg skies were never brighter walking home through those great snow drifts eating those wagon wheels mom brought.
Hockey was everything back then. The last I played hockey was an Oldtimers Country League a quarter century ago. I was a country doctor by then. I’ve skated since but haven’t had a stick in my hand that I can remember since. I don't know where the time went. If you asked us kids back then we'd have told you we'd never give up playing hockey. It was everything a Canadian boy lived for.
When we were kids, the Red River froze some years. Then we played hockey for miles on that river skating like the wind and passing the puck back and forth forever. I think of that year when I hear Vancouver's Sarah MacLaughlan singing so beautifully the Saskatchewan Joni Mitchell prairie Canada song, "I wish I had a river I could skate away on."
Somethings are truly Canadian.
The Samborni Machines cleaned the ice tonight. I love Samborni machines. The pretty cheerleader girls and handsome boys carrying shovels rather than batons between periods added to the whole experience. Given the cold when I was growing up outdoor hockey never had cheer leaders. As kids we sometimes cleared 4 feet of snow off the ice at the rink just to play hockey.
The Canucks are everything now. They’ve got the best of gear. Their sticks aren’t wood taped with electric tape but some sort of composite. Their skates are some sort of Startrek greased lightening. Humans couldn't skate that fast without some kind of extraterrestrial or supernatural help. They wear helmets and face guards, things which only the goalie wore when we were kids. Not all goalies. Only the sissies.
The Canucks goalie Lack is from Sweden. I like all the northerners on the Canucks team. I never forget that the greatest hockey game I saw was the Canadian Canadian Russian all star series. After that ironically, the best hockey has been the Canadian women versus Americans. Well, maybe not, there's nothing like a game with Goretsky on the ice. I've been blessed to see that and I thought his playing was near divine. The Canucks have come close too. They will again. Our old standby Luongo is gone but Lack was magnificent tonight. Gilbert, my cockapoo, still wore his Canucks jersey even if he couldn't attend the game.
When Jensen scored the first goal, that was it. A groundswell of applause. Everyone standing and shouting. I’m hoarse. Really hoarse. The stadium roared. But it got even louder when Edler scored the second in a power play. . How it could have got any louder than when Jensen scored is beyond me, but it did. All of us Canucks fans were clapping our hands and stamping our feet.
I’m sure the ghosts of my mom and Boris dad were there too. There sure were a lot of kids with their parents tonight. I liked that. Hockey is such a special sport. It's all about family and Canada and growing up in ice and snow. I liked that Aim, from Thailand, liked it.
"I used to love watching Marc play goalie,"
It was a grand night. Thank you Canucks. Thank you Jensen. Thank you Edler.