I was driving around my neighbourhood last night and as I passed by one of the local parks I heard the very familiar sound of a frozen puck ricocheting off rink boards and it set me to reminiscing.
We have here in Stittsville, two indoor arenas which are constantly in use , but we also have three outdoor rinks which receive some support from the City of Ottawa (boards, staff to put boards up, a small change shack ,water supply hoses and plows and shovels) but the full responsibility for creating and maintaining the ice surface is the responsibility of community volunteers , and they do a wonderful job.
As in the days of our youth these outdoor rinks generally feature a bunch of kids of various ages, loosely organized into two teams, playing shinny, a great developer of individual skills. Over the past two years I have taken my three grandsons to the rink closest to our house and introduced them to skating with their new skates that Santa left at our house for them and since then they always bring their skates and sticks when they come to visit in the winter.
I stopped the car last night got out and walked over to just watch as about a dozen kids just freewheeled with one puck and individual skaters taking turns as a net minder of sorts.
It was amazing to watch complete democracy in action,12-14 players, different ages , no slap shots or "risers" and no referee, just a constant flow and ebb up and down the rink freedom at it's finest.
As I watched I thought back to my learning to skate some 60 plus years ago. My first skating experience was on the ice that had formed on the water that had collected and formed mini rinks on the fairways of The Country Club of Montréal, before the real snows had come.
Later on we were also able to skate on Charles Creek, on the Creek that crossed Murray Ave by Caverleys where it formed a small rink and then as the snow base began to build, right on the streets in front of our respective houses .
Those were my first rinks and it was only later as I got a little older and was allowed to venture farther afield that we would skate from our house on Murray to the municipal rink at the corner of Empire and Churchill and engage in the same type of shinny as I saw the kids here in Stittsville doing last night.
As I watched I also had flashbacks of the small rink that was set up in the field back of Royal George where we "Cubs" would sometimes go as part of our phys ed program.
I also seem to recall some of my contemporaries saying they would skate on the upper reaches of Charles Creek (around Parker and Miller and Campbell) and others skating on the ice in amongst the trees and bushes on the east side of Fairfield before any housing development began.
Back in those days the skating season went from sometime in Nov when the ice was solid enough to support us until sometime in February when the daytime sun and warmer temperatures began to melt any ice in the open. From then it was not too long before the skates and sticks and McLeans magazines (pseudo shin pads) were put away for another year and we couldn't wait to get out the ball and bat. A far cry from today where much of amateur hockey is so very regimented and becoming quite expensive.
In a lot of cases the kids are engaged on a year round basis with summer leagues and summer hockey camps to compliment the demands of a full schedule of practices and games from Sept. through to April to the unfortunate result of many children are dropping out of hockey by age 14-15.
There perhaps is a message there but perhaps the receiver is not turned on. There is something to be said for the good old days or perhaps it is the musings of an old-timer who forgotten the frozen toes, ears and fingers and the drudgery of having to shovel off the rink at the end of an evening of shinny so it could be watered for the next day