I was at the Cowichan Community Centre earlier this week to chat with P.J. Frayne, co-owner of The Taco Hole, a new Mexican eatery that has opened there, when my attention was drawn to the activities on the ice rink.
A group of youngsters, some of whom barely reached the height of my hip, were being taught hockey skills and it was obvious this was not their first time on skates.
These small kids, who aren’t even old enough to be in kindergarten, were racing around the ice and handling the puck like professionals, and some even had the skills to skate backwards as they tried to keep ahead of their opponents’ rush toward their goalie.
I was fascinated and impressed with how much their coaches had taught them in their young lives, and it was obvious that more than a few of them would likely go on to play organized hockey, and maybe even be among the privileged number that would eventually join the ranks of the NHL.
Apparently, lacrosse is Canada’s official sport, but anyone who has lived anywhere in Canada knows that it’s hockey that has captured the heart and soul of the nation.
I’ve never had such training in hockey skills as was apparent with those youngsters at the Cowichan Community Centre; in fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I can barely even skate at all.
I attribute this lack of ability to participate in Canada’s favourite pastime to the experiences I had in my younger years.
I was the last of five boys in my family, and the first four were rabid hockey fans and players.
They were on teams that practiced early in the mornings… and I mean REALLY early in the mornings, like at 5:30 a.m.
My poor mother was usually tasked with getting my brothers to their practices, and she used to wake me up in the middle of the night, bundle me up (I was little more than a baby at the time) in blankets and strap me in the car while waiting for my brothers to stuff their gear into the trunk and head out to the local arena.
As there were at least four practices every week that my four brothers had to attend, this went on almost every morning of the week.
There was no heating in the ice arenas like there is today, so the temperatures inside were the same as outside, which meant that the average temperature was about minus 15 C at the best of times.
As young as I was, being taken from my warm bed almost every morning and forced to sit in a freezing stadium for hours while my brothers practised their hockey skills was among my earliest memories; and they weren’t pleasant.
So when I reached the age of those toddlers I saw at the ice rink in the Cowichan Community Centre and asked if I wanted to play hockey like my older brothers, I almost laughed at the absurdity of the question considering the “torture” I was exposed to as a baby.
I was so turned off from the whole hockey experience that I didn’t even bother to learn how to skate until I was an older teenager and realized that a lot of girls I was interested in thought going for a skate made for a good date.
So I set out to teach myself how to skate, and while I managed to get the basics down, like standing up on skates and moving forward, the rest of the skills needed to be considered good at it still elude me to this day.
While I can get going, I’ve never learned to turn or stop properly.
My strategy to bring myself to a stop is to crash into the boards or the nearest person to me, which doesn’t impress anybody and leaves me feeling humiliated and awkward.
Needless to say, unlike those kids at the local arena, I never had any big dreams of becoming another Sidney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky.