Sunday, February 11, 2007

Beautiful Day

Saturday, February 10

Shortly after 6:00 a.m., I descend the stairs leading to the basement, where a pair of old friends waits for me. I open the super-sized Sports Experts bag to remove the Bauer 4000s I haven’t worn since I last played outdoor hockey—has it been two or three years?

I gather my skates, a puck, and my mittens and then place them on top of my hockey bag, which lies next to front door, because this weekend, I intend to play on the pond.

But first, my wife and I make our weekly pilgrimage to our favorite Dunkin’ Donuts, where I relax with a Chocolate Frosted, a medium-sized hot choffee (half hot chocolate, half coffee) and the Saturday Boston Globe. I read the sports section, preparing myself for the New England Hockey Journal Radio Show, which starts in an hour or so.


Listening to the show from home now, Kevin Paul Dupont and Mick Colageo discuss pond hockey with Brad Park. The former Bruin talks about how his dad would flood the Park’s front yard in Scarborough, Ontario, which had only one indoor rink way back in the day, so that little Brad could play his favorite game.

My collection of skating accoutrements waits for me as I call 866-ESPN-890 to let the listeners know about a pond hockey documentary (where you’ll learn more about what happened when a production crew visited Jack Falla's backyard rink in Natick, MA. As Andrew, the NEHJ Radio Show’s producer queues up U2’s “Beautiful Day” to signal the end of another well-produced program, I sign off, saying I’m headed for the pond.

Norton Pond. Just north of Saxonville and across the street from Cameron Middle School, five skaters—hockey sticks in hand—stride between makeshift goals upon the five acre expanse of frozen heaven. According to the city of Framingham’s Web site, the pond’s “primary function is to provide water storage for the surrounding developed neighborhood north of the pond.” If that’s true, Norton Pond’s secondary function is to serve as an outlet for hockey players of all ages.

“Good defense! Skate, skate, skate!”

Sitting on the soggy moss surrounding the gnarled root of an old tree, I pull on my Bauers; the sounds of pond hockey—gleeful encouragement from teammates, skate blades digging into wonderfully imperfect ice, and stick blades pushing the vulcanized rubber disc—echo across the playing surface.

The sun beams upon the frozen plane, but the temperature is well-below freezing; the ice is solid and void of slush except for in one spot on the practice rink, where I warm up and wait to be called upon to join the game. I stickhandle the puck as I traverse the collection of sealed fissures, splotched patches, and pockets of snowy buildup. Sweat seeps into the t-shirt I’m wearing beneath my light blue Colorado Eagles pullover and into my knit cap. I stretch my hamstrings and survey the action on the rink adjacent to my practice venue.

Five minutes later, I’m skating with Timmy and Dave—both appear to be about twenty years my junior—and against a formidable threesome. Tommy, who I guess is about ten years old, is teamed with a man in his late forties or early fifties, and a big college-aged kid.

The youngster is patient with the puck and doesn’t panic as I approach him. I think he’s going to pass it to Panther (I call the older guy that because he’s wearing Bauer Panthers—steel connecting the boots to his blades), but the little trickster goes around me. Timmy, Panther, and College Kid combine to score a few goals on us.

But Timmy and Dave are savvy players and sure-footed skaters. Sometimes I let them carry the offense as I hang back. Other times, I rush with the puck and find one or the other open and waiting to push the puck between the “goal posts,” tennis shoes separated by three or four feet of ice.

The friendly game continues beneath a peek-a-blue sky. Tommy and Panther leave, but new players who’ve just donned their skates—except for the goalie wearing a full complement of NHL caliber protection and who’ll guard a regulation-sized net imported imported from someone’s driveway while wearing shoes.

Meanwhile, in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, the Boston Danglers are also skating outside and are probably en route to yet another World Pond Hockey Championship. They’ll play all weekend, but for me, it’s almost time to go home, from where I’ll watch the Bruins and Islanders skate on artificial ice.


In the third period, during a break in the NHL action, Rob Simpson catches my attention. NESN’s rink-side reporter and Rubber Biscuit’s host tells the TV audience that he and his camera crew may visit a pond near me to document the joy of hockey in the game’s purest form, as pure and as wholesome as Zdeno Chara’s smile after he scores the game-winning goal against the Islanders.
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