Saturday, August 26, 2006

AMHL Thursday Championship: The Legend of Peterborough Pete

With this entry, I make my foray into fiction. Sort of. This story is a blend of fact (non-fiction) and fiction (pure imagination), a genre I’ll call non-faction. It stems from my unsuccessful attempts to interview the elusive, as you’ll learn in AMHL Glory, Peter Kokas.

AMHL Thursday Championship: The Legend of Peterborough Pete

August 24, 2006
Concord, MA

I’m in the donut room after the championship game, talking to the AMHL’s version of Mr. Hockey. I ask him about Peter Kokas’ performance.

In the late 1960s, Kokas was born on the outskirts of Peterborough, Ontario, the hometown of future NHL players Steve Larmer and Corey Stillman and where scores of other NHL players have played and will play for the Peterborough Petes, the city’s infamous junior team. But Kokas, as you may know, never made it to the NHL, much less junior hockey.

The eldest offspring of a piano maker and a perfume saleswoman, young Peter did not have time for hockey. Oh, he dreamed of skating with his school chums, but after school—when most kids drifted off to the rink—Peter would join his father, Peter Senior, in the family’s small, dusty shop. There, amidst the sawdust, Peter learned how to shape baby grands while Peter’s pals pursued pucks. He never once complained or hinted to his parents—or his sisters, Pauline, Patty, and Oswalda—that he didn’t share his father’s passion for producing pianos.

Oswalda, who was born only a year after Peter, had sensed sadness in her brother. “Peter was a devoted son,” Ozzie (Peter’s nickname for her) would say decades later, “but I knew his heart was somewhere outside the piano shop. I knew he didn’t want to own the family business after Papa retired.”

So when Ozzie was 16 and Peter 17, she confronted her brother. Peter confided in his sister. He longed to play hockey. On rare occasions when their father was not in the piano shop, Ozzie and Peter crafted hockey sticks from leftover piano pieces. They’d pass a makeshift puck—glued-together wood chips—to each other or take turns taking shots at the “goal,” an overturned piano bench. The years of plowing a saw through spruce to build the piano’s rim, buffing a glossy polish into the nearly completed masterpiece, and helping his father heft the world’s finest pianos on to trucks, which would deliver the Kokas’ namesakes to customers like Stevie Wonder and Carole King, had paid off in more than a nice bundle of money. Peter had also grown into a buff young man, a man with the prototypical hockey player’s physique. But besides the clandestine practice sessions, he would have to wait to unleash his power and raw talent on the hockey world.

(And you, dear reader, will have to wait until Monday for the conlusion.)

Part II: Click here!
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