We played street hockey in the evenings. Ever single evening from the time the snow stuck down on the road in icy permanence to the time when spring thaw was enough to reveal gravel and asphalt again.
My Dad had bought me a hockey net as contribution to the street hockey games. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. It was shiny aluminum and sturdy mesh though it wasn’t as deep as a regulation net. Then again we weren’t really playing regulation hockey either.
I kept the net tucked away around the side of the garage. So when the game was on and I had suited up in all my gear I would trudge out the door, open the swinging gate, and walk across the driveway to the far side of the garage door to lift the net out of the snowbank I had tucked it into after the end of our last game.
My hockey stick I didn’t treat quite so well. It wasn’t a mortal sin, though, as again this wasn’t quite official refereed hockey we played—a proper hockey player wouldn’t get away with similar treatment. I kept my stick on top of the hockey net. So if it was icy out, the stick got icy. If it snowed, the stick was covered in snow. It was like a fixture of the landscape but one that happened to have extra usefulness not present in a stick or a rock.
My hockey stick changed over the years because at some point it just got worn out. Between throwing my stick to stop a break away by the other team, or knocking icicles off the eaves trough to have as popsicles at a break in the game, or just hacking and scraping across snow and ice and asphalt, my sticks took a beating.
At all times growing up my stick was always my Dad’s old stick. Not once did I scrape together enough allowance to buy my own. My Dad played in a weekly hockey league where a good stick was an important thing. When his stick got too beat up and wasn’t up for many more good slapshots, he’d retire it down to me. And so at semi-regular intervals I would get a new hand-me-down stick at which point I would discard the old one permanently into a snowbank, and get down to the important process of beating the crap out of it.
Sometimes, however, the stick was worn out before its time. Maybe we played when there was too much asphalt showing through the snow. Or maybe we decided sticks were better at being swords for battles atop the snowpile the grader left at the end of the street. No matter how it happened, there were a few unlucky times when the blade of my stick would break. Officially, I always blamed my overly powerful slapshot. At some such break, I would trudge back inside, take off my suit, and show my Dad. The solution was always the same: a plastic blade replacement.
These blade replacements weren’t all that expensive at the local hardware store. And they’d last forever too – you couldn’t break them without the help of mechanized equipment. That was how they made them. So you might think that having a plastic blade would be a good idea then, that everyone would want one. Not really. The blades were good, are durable, and reasonably priced and for all those reasons they were universally disliked and ridiculed. As soon as my blade broke and my Dad fixed a bright green plastic replacement on the end that marked the start of my anxious waiting for him to retire a new hand-me-down stick to me.
I’m sure it was the same for all of my other friends that played. The bunch of us with our dads’ old sticks, the unfortunate few with neon plastic blades on the end, hacking up and down the roadway in the hours between dinnertime and bedtime.
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