Long-standing tradition becomes lifelong passion
My son, Brad Boyes, is in his fifth year as an NHL hockey player, and has been the leading scorer on the St. Louis Blues for the past two years.
Who would have guessed that 27 years ago? Certainly not me.
Brad is the second of our four children. He has an older brother and two younger sisters, all of whom love and play sports still. We are a sports family.
As a toddler, Brad would play mini hockey in the kitchen whenever he could with his brother, mother, and/or me.
He loved hockey. He would sit in front of the TV and watch the Leafs' every move. During games, he was just focused on the action in front of him. Nothing else mattered, just the hockey game.
In December 1985, a freak weather situation helped move his love of the game along. We were living in Milton, Ont., at the time and it had been a particularly snowy month with heavy snowfalls.
One such snowstorm was followed the next day by a heavy pelting of freezing rain. The roads and sidewalks were extremely dangerous, the schools were closed, the radio was reporting accident after accident. It was chaos.
Out of this chaos came a long standing Boyes family tradition: The backyard ice rink. It seemed with the heavy snowfall and the freezing rain on top, we had a perfect rink.
With a few more doses of water from buckets (before I got smart and used a hose to water the rink each night) the rink became a winter-long attraction for cousins, neighbourhood friends of my older son, everyone it seemed. Except Brad.
My wife would bundle him up in his snowsuit, put his helmet on over his toque, get him warm mitts, give him his beloved hockey stick, put his skates on and take him outside - where he would proceed to sit on the patio steps.
He would watch his brother and his friends skate around chasing the puck on the rink. He would watch and watch, and just watch. Eventually, he did try to get up and move on the ice.
Brad was pretty normal in that he would fall more than move at first, but soon he did catch on. But he did something that I have rarely seen before or since: He skated with his left skate blade leaning into his body rather than outward as just about every beginning skater does.
We went to Ron Ellis' (the former Leaf) sporting goods store in Brampton and he suggested we use moulded skates for Brad. Well, that was the answer.
From his first time using the moulded skates, Brad never looked back. They were the tools that allowed him to enjoy his passion on the ice as much as in the kitchen and in front of the TV.
Even when we moved house from Milton to Mississauga, we still managed to have a backyard rink. Our boys played hockey and our girls figure skated in the back for hours on end.
When the girls wanted a change of pace, they would grab a hockey stick and play against the boys.
And when the boys needed a goalie for their shooting practice, one of the girls would be invited to be the goalie - that is, until they figured out that a tennis ball was OK, but the puck hurt if you didn't have equipment on. But they were good sports and agreed to play more often than not.
My wife and I would regularly pour ourselves a coffee, pull up a chair to the window in the family room and watch the kids on the rink. It was fun.
One particular time, I remember being outside at night, cleaning and preparing the rink for another flood. It was cold out and was just after Christmas. I asked my wife if she would move the TV closer to the window so I could watch the world juniors game while I was flooding the rink.
Never did I think that I was flooding our backyard rink for someone who would be on Canada's world junior team in 2000 and 2001.