Al Campbell, Field Editor

December 31st, 2001

The Great Hockey Game
By Al Campbell

It doesn't take long for ice to form on Montana ponds and lakes when the first winds of winter begin to blow. By the time Christmas arrives, there's usually enough ice to support ice skaters and ice fishermen. While I enjoy ice fishing, it doesn't beat skating on fresh ice.

As a child, the two-week Christmas vacation from schoolwork was always the traditional time to don ice-skates and refresh my skills on the ice. My mother encouraged it, but I think she had a hidden motive. Four rowdy boys in a small house for two weeks straight is enough to drive any mother insane. Whatever her reason, I had plenty of outside playtime during Christmas vacations.

My boyhood buddies, Hic Belcher and Darnit Stammer usually had similar freedoms during the Christmas vacation season. Any time you get more than two boys on the ice, the play always turns competitive. To us, competition on ice could only mean one thing, hockey.

Darnit and I didn't come from wealthy families. Hic had those fancy skates with barbs on the front of the runners. He didn't like it when we called them figure skates because that was too sissy sounding. Instead, Hic called them custom hockey skates. Darnit and I wore old second hand skates that were handed down from relatives or friends. Three pairs of heavy wool socks were required to make my skates fit; Darnit needed four. Hic's skates fit just right, so he almost always had cold feet long before Darnit and I were ready to quit.

Hockey sticks were easy to make. A couple of boards and a few nails could always produce a custom-fit hockey stick. I'm not sure I even knew exactly what a real hockey stick looked like before I was 10, and the first one I owned was one I picked out of a snow bank where someone had shoved it after the blade split. A little tape, a little glue, and I had a real "professional" stick like the guys on TV use. Darnit and Hic were jealous.

Our biggest problem was finding a hockey puck to play with. Those round rubber disks the rich kids played with were nice, but we couldn't afford them. Rocks slid on the ice ok, but they were too hard if you got hit with one. I'm sure those guys missing their front teeth got that way by playing hockey with rocks. We solved our problem by taking turns stealing a roll of black tape from one of our father's toolboxes. Hey, don't laugh; it works.

Three people don't make a hockey team. In fact, we had to devise our own rules to make it work at all. The rules were simple. You were goalie until you managed to block a shot. The person with the puck was the offense and the other guy was the defense until he got the puck; then the roles were reversed until the puck changed possession or the goalie blocked a shot. Then, the person who had their shot blocked was goalie until he blocked a shot. You know; electrical tape makes a fair puck, but it gets pretty hard in cold weather. It's better to duck a shot than to take a hit anywhere in the body. High scores were the rule.

One day Hic had the puck, I was the defense and Darnit was tending the snow bank goal. Hic thought he was pretty good on those custom skates he wore. He decided to try a trick shot and slide the puck between Darnit's skates. He made the goal, but the puck raised off the ice to about groin level, forcing Darnit to duck to the side to avoid a career singing soprano. When he ducked, his oversized skates slid out from under him and clipped the heel of one of Hic's skates. That caused those custom barbs on the front of Hic's skates to dig into the ice and launched him into me.

My "pro" hockey stick broke in the middle from the force of Hic's fall, Darnit was rubbing the new bump on his head, and neither of us noticed that Hic was buried to his knees (head first) in a snow bank. I suppose we could have moved a little faster to remove Hic from the snow bank after we noticed his dilemma, but it's hard to stand on your skates when you're laughing your head off. When his feet quit moving, we decided it might be a good idea to remove him from the snow bank. "Snowman Belcher" didn't speak to either us for the rest of the Christmas break.

We didn't play hockey again that winter. I had to make a new stick, and Hic suddenly discovered his skates were too small for his feet. For some reason he wasn't nearly as proud of those custom skates with the barbs on the front of the runners as he was at the start of the season. When he finally found a used pair of real hockey skates, the ice was too rough for hockey; but the skates were perfect. They were big enough to wear five pairs of heavy socks, and his feet stayed warm as toast when the games resumed the following winter. ~ AC

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