Some of the hockey players who gathered on dozens of rinks along the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario as part of CBC's Hockey Day in Canada on Saturday, January 30, 2010. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)
As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I like hockey. Always have, ever since my family moved to Canada in the mid-fifties. Growing up in Ottawa (there was no team in the capital in those days), I was forced to choose between the only two Canadian options of the time, "Red" or "Blue."
I chose "Blue" and I've been a Leafs fan ever since. I pay a price for that of course, Ottawa Senators fans call me a traitor and point to 1967 as how long its been since Toronto won the Cup (may I remind Senators fans that 1927 was your last one).
And Montreal fans simply say I made a poorly informed childhood decision by ignoring the "most storied franchise in league history" (True, but lets not forget they couldn't have done that without former Leafs Frank Mahovolich and Dick Duff).
In the early seventies, thanks to the CBC, I was based in Winnipeg when the Jets were born. And I was assigned to cover that birth, including the famous moment at the corner of Portage and Main when Bobby Hull signed with the Jets for a million dollars to jump from the NHL to the new WHA. I followed the Jets that first year, right to the Avco World Trophy finals (I bet you're impressed I could remember that one) and their eventual loss to the New England Whalers. In that year, 1972-'73, I became a dual hockey citizen - Leafs AND Jets, and I still am. It's tricky when they play each other, but I figure out a way to have my cake and eat it too.
But having said all that, my favourite hockey moment of the week isn't Saturday night even though it's been a ritual for me since the fifties when my parents would send me upstairs to bed after the second period and I'd sneak down to the landing to listen to the third period. More than once that's where they found me sleeping.
No, my favourite moment now is Saturday mornings, when like so many other parents in hockey mad Stratford, Ontario, I'm at the rink. Stratford loves hockey, whether it's the Junior "B" Cullitons, or the many levels of youth hockey for both girls and boys. So many teams have sprung up over the last twenty years that the community pulled together and raised the money to build a whole new double rink complex It's busy from early morning to late night every day. But it's Saturdays when I get to be there and that's the day I look forward to all week.
Our son plays D in the local house league and I'm one of the team coaches, although I use that term loosely. My buddies Dean and Jacques do the heavy lifting, I'm best at two things - opening and closing the D door for shift changes. Some times I get so caught up in the game though, that the kids, including my son, stare at me as if to say "Coach, just open the door or get out of the way."
I'm apparently also known for something else. My wife says around the rink they call me "Peter 'oh come onnnn' Mansbridge." Apparently I yell that phrase at the refs whenever I think they've missed an offside, a trip, a hook or whatever. Come to think of it, I do vocalize a bit from the bench.
My daughters didn't play hockey when they were growing up so the experience with my son is the first time I've witnessed parents' attitudes around the rink and been told about my own. I've certainly done enough stories over the years that focused on that issue and many of them have not been not pretty. But before I started going to the rink myself as a parent, I had a hard time believing people could lose their cool watching young kids play hockey. I was wrong. Refs get yelled at, coaches get yelled at, and players get yelled at too. But, at least in our town, I think I've noticed over the years that it's got a lot better.
Part of it is the recognition that almost everyone involved making these games possible is doing it on their own time, for the love of the game, for the love of the kids and for the love of their sons and daughters.
So the other day, when I was doing the "Peter 'oh come onnnn' Mansbridge" routine I stopped myself in mid 'oh come onnnnn' and turned it into a smile. I'll have to keep working at that - I'll try to save that part of my hockey routine for yelling at the Leafs when they stumble on a Saturday night. Of course, that hardly happens anymore.
Right Ottawa? Right Montreal?