Everybody loves a pro hockey game played outdoors. This is especially true when the bowl game it’s up against is a blowout. But for a time Monday, it appeared the hockey game played outside between the Blues and Blackhawks might be rained out or compromised by unseasonably warm weather in St. Louis.
That is why these outdoor games should always been played in a place such as Duluth. In Minnesota’s Iron Range, the frozen pond does not thaw during hockey season.
Long ago on the grimy edge of Chicago, where kids played pond hockey because the only indoor arena was Chicago Stadium and Bobby Hull or the Ice Follies always had first dibs, the ice on the pond did not thaw until long after pitchers and catchers had reported for spring training.
On Christmas morning, when Santa almost always brought a new Northland hockey stick — or a CCM with a straight blade, the pond hockey games began just after dawn.
The guys on the checking line will tell you that was part of the charm of playing hockey on a frozen pond.
Although Western Michigan was hanging in there against Wisconsin, I watched the hockey game in St. Louis, and there was moisture on the camera lens during the first period. But if they truly wanted to recreate the experience of playing hockey on a frozen pond, certain revisions would have to be enacted, and then somebody would have to check with the pond hockey people, to make sure they didn’t infringe upon a copyright or something:
* Instead of a Zamboni, snow shovels would be used to prepare the ice, because in pond hockey towns the Zambonis are called salt trucks.
* There should be bulrushes in at least one attacking zone. The pond on which we played had bulrushes — sometimes called “cattails” before ice formed on windshields — and the reeds would protrude from the ice. You had to skate around them, and where the bulrushes were thick, it made it difficult to ice the puck when you were killing a penalty.
* Instead of a penalty box, there would be a old toboggan. You sat on it and counted “one-thousand-one …” until you got to two minutes or thereabouts, or until somebody on the other team slid the puck between an old boot and a galosh for a goal.
* The nets would be comprised of old boots or galoshes or if you grew up near a refinery, a couple of rusted out oil drums. Or if you were really desperate, two little kids who didn’t skate well. Try not to hit the post. Which brings us to …
* No lifting. When you lifted the puck, it was impossible to tell if it passed between the old boot and the galosh, or the two little kids who didn’t skate well. And when you lifted the puck, there was a chance it would hit your little brother in the face, and he’d either start crying or, much worse, tell Mom you had lifted the puck.
* If it was a small frozen pond, you’d have to share neutral ice with figure skaters who usually were girls.
* There would be a “hothouse” where you’d go to get warm when you couldn’t feel your toes anymore, but when you got inside the figure skaters who usually were girls would be huddled around the heater (provided it still worked or hadn’t been vandalized). So when you went back out to play more hockey, you still couldn’t feel your toes.
* This is important: There would never be a local blues band playing a gig between periods. In a worst-case scenario, the organist from Sunday mass would be allowed to play “Lady Of Spain,” but only in a worst-case scenario.
* And at the end of the day — long after the kid who was good in math had gone home and score was no longer being kept, and your cheeks had turned the color of beets — the kid who lived down the street might headman the puck to you from distance. It would slide across the swirls of snow and the pockmarked ice, and every now and again, when the puck would land on the tape of your new hockey stick, it would make a click you could hear through your stocking cap.
There was no sweeter sound in a pond hockey game, unless it was the sound of tires with snowchains, and your mom getting out of the family station wagon with a steaming Thermos of hot chocolate.
Contact Ron Kantowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.