It was that kind of New Year's Day. Beautiful and blue and where I live, which is down by the lake, snow lay all around.
For months I had been hoping to watch the NHL's Winter Classic on TV but the Leafs and Red Wings and 100,000 fans gathered around an outdoor sheet of ice in a Michigan university town were destined not to get together.
So I went for a walk with the dog instead.
Something magic happened.
I could see kids careening down the hill at Riverdale Park by the expressway. They wore snow suits and toques and with their father at the stern of their wooden toboggan they were laughing, even squealing with delight.
It was something I hadn't taken notice of in a long...long time.
Maybe that's the danger of living in the centre of a big city you sometimes fail to be aware of the little things that remind you of being a kid.
So it struck me as strange on this New Year's Day that close to my house I could hear the familiar crunch of skate blades on natural ice and the tell-tale call of a frozen puck.
There is, in the summer, a man-made pond in our housing development. A little fountain is at the centre of it, and it's inhabited by a few ducks that lazily put on a show for those who stroll on the surrounding boardwalk. I think they refer to this kind of scene as idyllic or tranquil as the madness of the metropolis rages all around.
But on this day, the pond was frozen over and the sun bathed it in a perfect sort of light.
Illuminated were a few kids and a dad racing back and forth firing pucks into a solitary net. Not just any net mind you, but one made of iron with its pipes painted a bright red. It was a REAL hockey net on a REAL frozen pond and mysteriously it was right there in my own backyard.
I found myself, as if by instinct, running with the dog back to my house.
Once there, I scrambled to the basement and dug out my skates, CCM Tacks naturally, and my Montreal Canadiens gloves circa 1980. I had on a wool hat with the big, blue "M" of the St. Michael's Majors on it. I was appropriately dressed for shinny.
Into the garage I went to fish out my old Sherwood hockey stick, a Ray Bourque model, the blade taped jet black from heel to toe. It's not one of those carbon fibered things but rather it's made of wood.
On the trot back to the pond I hoped that the guys were still there and that I hadn't conjured up the whole thing, a wishful figment of my imagination.
It was beautiful.
This kid named Otis who plays for the Willowdale Blackhawks "AA" team was the guy who was responsible for shoveling off the rink. His dad had helped him and as we began play the father was ferrying big buckets of water from his house across the road to fill in small but treacherous holes which dotted the uneven, natural surface.
A ten-year old named Jake and his dad Ian were working on the give and go. Meantime, Otis circled expertly and drilled shots at the net ringing them off the cross bar and making the twine billow.
I soon found my legs and on the fly snapped the puck at the target with good velocity but frequently missed by a whisker and had to give chase over the snow bank which surrounded the rink.
There was also a touch and go moment when I picked up speed and then caught my skate in a rut. We used to call it going "ass over tea kettle," and as I landed, I banged my elbow big time. At the point of impact I recalled doing the very same thing a thousand times in my youth.
It made me simultaneously smile and grimace.
We played for quite a while and Ian and I talked about my Ray Bourque hockey stick. He said he hadn't seen one like it in quite awhile. But as he considered it, he remembered he had one similar autographed by the late Philadelphia Flyer and Stanley Cup champion, Bill "Cowboy" Flett, somewhere back home.
It was an "honest to goodness" hockey stick, Ian figured.
The game was interrupted for brief flicker as a kid a hundred yards away yelled for help. We all dropped our sticks and raced to his aid. The boy's dog, a beautiful, black, Labrador retriever, had gotten too close to the edge and gone through the ice.
The dog was easily fished out and violently shook off the wetness with a massive spray only to happily trundle across the ice.
We then returned to our playing.
As the sun sank in the west and the shadows grew longer I thought to myself that for many Canadians this is what heaven must look like.
It was New Year's Day and in the middle of the city I was engaging in the national passion. I was not a spectator but a participant and it made me feel young again.
This was my reconnection with the field of play and in that sense it was worth the throbbing elbow and the urgent trepidation that comes with knowing my toes were beginning to freeze.
I'm 54-years-old but I could swear that somewhere in the distance I could hear my mother calling me home for supper. I did what any Canadian kid would on a brilliant New Year's Day like this.
I ignored her and played on.
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