Friday, March 6, 2009

Rink Rats

I was a rink rat in my youth growing up in Bloomington, Minnesota. My younger brothers Keith and Tim were rink rats too; Keith more so than Tim. There was no lack of ice to skate on near our home. I can think of a dozen ponds or hockey rinks within two miles of where we lived but the one we spent most of our time at was behind Hubert Olson Jr High where Mike Norris was the warming house attendant. Mike would usually have the radio tuned to WDGY which played top 40 stuff. To this day, whenever I hear the song I'm Your Venus by The Shocking Blue my mind goes back to the warming house where Mike would often have drum sticks in his hands banging out rhythms on the benches and the barrel just inside the door where we put our sticks.

The regulars would show up at the same time after school. After a little while of skating around taking shots at an empty net somebody would yell out, "everybody for a game down here!" We'd figure out the teams and go at it. There were few rules and definitely no icing or offside pass calls. We lived at that rink during the winter. My brothers and I would bring a can or two of Shasta pop with us and bury them in the snow behind the warming house for later. We would head for home at dinner time and often hurry to return and skate until the rink closed at 9:00.

I revisited the spot where we spent all that time on our skates last summer when I was writing about An Intersection in My Life. It remains undeveloped and most likely always will as it's now part of a wetland area. I took the photo to the left, standing where the hockey rink used to be and looking out over where the pleasure rink was.

I've never been one for organized sports which I suppose some may find odd since most of my adult life I've been active in sports. I began on the bike then moved to running and eventually found my way back to my bike. I'm a part-time athlete but running and cycling were/are solo endeavors for me and I enjoy participating in them that way. I suppose I'm not a team player in that I march to my own beat. Those who know me well understand what I'm saying.

I played organized baseball for one season and organized hockey for not quite two. I was a quitter. It would take me a while to live that name down. I lost the starting role of left wing to the coaches son and there was no way you could convince me that it was a just decision. I stopped showing up for practice but that wasn't enough for my dad as he insisted before the next game that I call the coach and tell him I was quitting. I still remember being on the phone with him but I can't remember what I said. I don't recall if I was honest with him about my reasons for leaving the team. I only know that it was a bittersweet feeling as I hung up the phone.

I would catch more grief for quitting than I ever imagined I would from my friends. It was a good lesson for me to learn and I'd like to think I've never been a quitter since that time but others may disagree. Some may say that I quit on high school but I'd counter by saying that I was never in the game. There was a time last spring when I quit pushing on an issue my union felt strongly about as they stood behind me. In the end, I followed through in my own way but I did what I needed to do for reasons of self-preservation. I certainly didn't quit on my first marriage. I'm not a quitter and those who know me know this.

My dad coached Tim's hockey team one year. Tim was maybe ten years old then and my dad's whole approach to coaching was to make sure every kid got to see an equal amount of playing time. Winning the game was secondary to all else. If it was down to the final two minutes of play and they were behind, he didn't put his best line out there. He let the chips fall where they may. He no doubt caught grief from some of the players as well as their parents but my dad also marched to his own beat.

I don't suppose his method of coaching would find much support these days but I'd like to think there are some out there who understand.

A couple years before he passed away in September 1995 he gave me a plaque (photo to the right) which occupied a place on the wall by his desk at work. He and I were alike in many ways.

I originally sat down to write a post about the International Air Traffic Controllers Hockey Tournament which was in town this past week but I find myself reminiscing a little.

Back to the present.

I thought my hockey days were behind me as I'd last laced my skates up nine years ago. It's been eleven years since I played in the tournament. Steve, one of the guys on the team at work had been encouraging me to skate with them at this year's tournament but I could never muster the ambition to fit practicing into my schedule. "My hockey days are done" I'd say and then I'd go on to tell him how busy I was with everything else in my life. My brother Keith who also plays on the team gave up encouraging me to come out a while ago.

This past Tuesday, Steve mentioned to me that he wasn't going to be able to play in Friday's game and would I give some thought to taking his place. He must've caught me in a weak moment because I told him I'd consider it.

I woke up Wednesday morning for work and when I came down into the kitchen I picked up the phone and called the Area 5 supe requesting a couple hours of vacation time at the end of my shift. I'd planned to watch some of the tournament on Friday and film some video too. I needed to move that up to Wednesday if I wanted to get something for YouTube since there was now a chance I'd be playing on Friday. Plus, it would give me an opportunity to study the situation more closely to see if I really wanted to get back out there and mix it up.

I didn't at all like the idea of going out there cold. Nine years off the ice is a long time and rollerblading doesn't count. I tried to convince myself to just go have fun with it and not worry about the certain erosion of my playing skills but I was having a hard time buying into that idea. I didn't even own a hockey stick anymore since giving them all away a few years ago to the neighbor kids to play street hockey with. Keith said he had one I could use.

When I got back from watching Keith and the rest of the team play I got out the ladder to find my hockey bag which I had stored up in the rafters of our garage. I brought it down into the basement and began to go through it. It was like opening up a time capsule. Everything was just as I'd left it. Most likely unwashed, too. I noticed that a mouse had chewed through the zipper and made a home inside the bag at some point. There were some pieces of corn in the bottom but all of my gear was fine.

As silly as it sounds I was actually nervous about playing. I was worried about getting injured and I really didn't want that to happen. I like my bikes and my rower too much to have to spend time away from them because I needed to play this game one last time. I told Tammy that this may be the only chance she'd ever get to watch me play hockey. She was excited about it and said she'd videotape the game for me. I was committed.

I wish I could say that I played a great game but I didn't. I was terrible. Five minutes of warm-up before the game to grind away at nine years worth of rust wasn't nearly enough. I struggled to keep the puck on my stick anytime it came near. It was probably the worst hockey I've ever played but none of that really mattered because I had a blast; so much so that I've decided I'm going to get back into it again. Keith mentioned to me about a group of guys who play on Wednesday nights that we could hook up with in the fall. I'm all in.

I put a video on YouTube of some of the stuff Tammy took during the game. I'm number 47 in yellow. Keith is number 22. They call our team the Goons and I'm proud to have been one again if only for one game this time around.

If you stay with the video to the end you'll see of a couple of rink rats I wrote about earlier in this post as we leave the ice together. I think we've got more hockey to play; in fact, I'm sure of it.


Anonymous said...

Didja slow down those hockey videos so we could see what was happening (or not happening) or was that real speed?...


Kevin Gilmore said...

Ouch. It was real speed. I played the worst hockey of my adult life without question out there but I had a fun time doing it. I'm back and I'm coming to a rink near you!

Anonymous said...

I thought maybe you could use some help with your stick work. It sure helped my kid.

Kevin Gilmore said...

Pdog...where's the link? Tell you what...I'll help you post links and you can help me with my stick work. Deal?