It was more than just a game to us!
I was telling a story the other day regarding an observation a friend and I made a few decades ago. He and I were coming up the ranks in our weekly Drop-In Hockey and Adult Hockey leagues. We were young, and together we were looking around the locker room and noticed we were the youngest in the locker room. It is incredible how fast the tides have turned. We are now the oldest in the room.
Our drop-in hockey leagues consisted of an assortment of players of all skill levels and ages. They consisted of a core group of regulars and invites, as we were always looking for additional players to fill the benches. There were the usual twenty-somethings, mixed in with players in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and so on. Thinking back, it is crazy how diverse in ages this drop-in league was. It wasn’t unusual for someone to bring their teenage kid to play. Certain players were stand-outs but were respectful when they played. Others not so much!
Typical Hockey Game (media by JC)
It was a Friday ritual, and we would make an entire night of it. A few of us would have a pre-game meal at various locations, including a local bar/restaurant known for fish dinner, a burger joint, or whatever tickled our fancy. If time permitted, we would hit the local bookstore or mall and then stop at the gas station for a lottery ticket. If we struck it rich, we all had planned on buying a hybrid hockey arena with the obligatory bar/restaurant.
I remember getting to the rink early and rolling into the locker room, anxious to hear the latest “stories” from the guys. We were always prepared to take and give a certain amount of ribbing. One of the players had a spirited girlfriend, and he was never short on stories of their volatile relationship. Come to think of it, many of the players had passionate relationships.
Typical Hockey Locker Room (media by JC)
Everyone had come to expect to be called by some nickname they had acquired over the years. One player’s nickname was “Pops,” as he was the oldest in the league. God bless him because he had to be in his 70’s at the time. He wasn’t at every game, but we made it our mission to get him a goal when he played.
A few of the other nicknames were a call out to how the players played. One friend of mine was called “No Name.” The joke was his play was not deserving of a nickname, so he would receive none. They nicknamed me “Pronger” not because my play reminded them of NHLer Chris Pronger, but instead, I had the same build and size. Looking back at Friday night hockey, our nicknames were a rite of passage. When you garnered your nickname, you had been initiated.
Occasionally someone would bring a girlfriend to watch in the stands. You knew this was the case when it looked like someone had a fire lit under them with their play. It was always something to see a burgeoning relationship turn into something more. The typical wife would not subject themselves to 2 hours of unorganized hockey.
Light versus Dark (media by JC)
On the ice, it was precisely that, disorganized. Light jerseys versus dark jerseys in every color imaginable. The teams were selected by throwing sticks at center ice and one player blindly throwing sticks into two piles. Whichever pile your stick landed in became your chosen team. Sometimes the teams were evenly matched, and most often, they were not.
There were no referees, and play was self-governed. Anything deemed a penalty, offsides, or even icing resulted in the puck going to the other team. Once a goal was scored, the other team vacated to the other side of half-ice and allowed the opposing team space to bring it out. The energy was high early in the game and significantly diminished after the first hour. We generally skated for 2 hours based on how many people showed and contributed to the ice fee. If we were short on players, the time was 90 minutes.
The winning team received bragging rights and could relive the glory moments back in the locker room. It was here everyone could partake in a few icy cold beverages and continue the ballbusting started prior, during, and after the game. The activities continued to the parking lot (weather permitting) for a small tailgate party. Once the beverages ran out, we bid our cohorts adieu until next week, and we could repeat the process. We lived for Friday Night Hockey!