Monday, March 27, 2017

MN Hockey

By: Michael Platzer

Barely 4 years old, we neighborhood kids hit the backyard pond, learning to skate. By 5, we were Mites playing organized hockey. Predawn, we shoveled snow and skated before catching the morning bus to school. Afternoons faded to dusk, faded to darkness and we skated and shot pucks against a 4 foot by 8 foot plywood backstop, hoping to find pucks errantly shot into snowdrifts after the spring thaw. We association or "town" hockey teams practiced and played outdoors, day or night. Snow flurries were no obstacle; wind was, and we hoped to get 2 periods with the wind at our backs rather than in our masks. Cold was no obstacle; warm weather was, turning corner-ice to puck-stopping mush, exposing dirt that ground our skate-edges dull. Town to town, warming houses were all the same, like rickety land-locked ice-fishing shanties, cramped, steamy hot and drafty, smelling of cigar smoke and rancid hockey gear. Zambonis were hand-made hodge-podge contraptions created from re-imagined farm equipment or resurrected and refabricated MNDOT machines. But when the latch lifted and the wooden half-door swung open and your skate-blades hit the ice along with your teammates, then there was only hockey. We played well most years, and moved up to North Metro B League, where we got blasted game after game by superior competition. But it was still hockey. I remember intramurals at the U of M, stepping onto the ice at the old "Ucc" and looking up to see #7 hanging from the rafters. Or driving down the embankment onto Lake Bemidji for a between-class pick-up game. Like most, I faded out of organized hockey but often returned to the rink for pick-up games with guys who could barely skate, or with speedy DII-Johnnies, and every ability in between, all competing together on the same ice. And that is hockey.

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