When I was a pre-teen, way back in the last century, I discovered hockey. To be fair, I had a lot of early exposure to it, as my parents were huge sports fans, and watched almost every sport that was broadcast on TV back then, including hockey. Like many Canadian families, our Saturday evening revolved around CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada”. So hockey was around my house an awful lot.
But I never really noticed it till one particular Saturday night. We had two TVs in our house, the good one and the crappy one. We mostly watched the good one, upstairs in the living room. The crappy one was downstairs in the always-chilly rec room, and wasn’t even in colour, if you can imagine that horror. Its saving grace, however, was that it was hooked up to our neighbour’s TV antenna (this was just prior to the days of cable, if you can imagine yet another horror), so we could watch a couple of American channels on it. Which channels, to my recollection, depended upon the weather – or maybe the alignment of the stars and planets and the current whereabouts of your lucky shiny stone. Fairly reliably, however, we could get the Seattle affiliate station of ABC.
The Saturday night in question, my parents were watching “Hockey Night in Canada” on the good TV upstairs. I remember that there was a program on ABC that I had been eagerly anticipating watching, although I don’t know which one. “Here Come the Brides”, starring dreamy Bobby Sherman, maybe? “Dark Shadows” perhaps? Somehow I doubt that either of those shows were broadcast on Saturday night at 7:00, but I do know that I loved both programs, so I suppose it’s possible. If I could recall accurately what year this was, I could google it and find out exactly what I had wanted to watch so badly, but it’s not that important to my story, so let’s continue …
I grabbed a sweater (always-chilly basement, remember?) and headed downstairs. I flicked on the TV and stood in front of it, waiting for it to warm up (yes, Virginia, TVs had to warm up in those days. AND I had to actually go up to the TV and turn a knob to turn it on – no simple pressing of a button on a remote. Barbaric, wasn’t it?).
The TV was tuned to CBC (channel 2), which was still showing the hockey game. For some reason, instead of switching the channel immediately to ABC (channel 4), I stood in front of that hockey game, mesmerized. I’d never really watched hockey before, and the speed of the game just took my breath away. I remember that the Toronto Maple Leafs were playing, only because as I watched, Dave Keon scored a goal, but I have no idea who their opponent was.
I didn’t even go sit on the couch. I never did switch over to ABC to see whatever I’d originally intended to see. I continued to stand there, watching to the end of that game. I was completely fascinated. The skating was so fast, so intense. The puck moved so swiftly. The shots were so powerful. The players somehow moved so gracefully, even as they bodychecked one another into the boards.
And I understood the game. Somehow, I knew exactly what was going on. I got it, possibly by osmosis through frequent exposure for the eight or nine years of my young life. I remember staring at the TV that night, while the realization slowly dawned upon me: “I LOVE this game!”
And the irony in all this is that although I fell so heavily in love with hockey at a young age, I never actually got to play the game on ice! Another horror of the times is that there was virtually no hockey for girls back then – or if there was, it wasn’t at our local community centre. So I had to content myself with playing street hockey and floor hockey, watching “Hockey Night in Canada” every Saturday night, listening to the Vancouver Canucks games on radio (only a handful of their games were ever on TV in those dark pre-cable days), collecting hockey cards and stickers, and when my parents’ finances permitted, attending the occasional game in person.
I don’t do all of that now, nor do I want to. About all I do with any great regularity now is watch Canucks games on TV. I have other demands on my time, as do we all. I guess I grew up.
But I still have the puck my dad bought me at the very first game I ever attended in 1971, and my album of hockey stickers from about the same year . I’ll never get rid of those!