Playing Hockey the Old-fashioned Way


There’s a duck pond hockey tournament held on my reserve every year.

Even though we have a hockey arena, an outdoor skating rink and a huge completely-frozen lake, the duck pond tournament is still the best.

The duck pond is located on private property, but the family that owns the land shovels the duck pond and places six barrels around it for fires.

It’s a family thing, and inasmuch as the younger players would like to keep another Canadian tradition with a beer after the game, alcohol is not allowed. 

The games go on for 24 hours over a weekend. The night games are cool because the players wear those head lights, like miners do.

There are no boards, just mounds created from snow removed from the ice. Spectators stand behind the mounds, cheering on the teams. The teams are made up of local people with a mixture of young, old and female players.

This is a fun tournament with no big cup for the winners to hoist. It’s a family tradition, a Canadian tradition.

People stand around the fires with cups of hot chocolate. Most watch the game on the ice, but others just hang out and visit. Laughter can be heard on the cold night air. Some of the laughter comes in reaction to stories and some comes from those on the ice. 

There are people playing who haven’t laced up a pair of skates in years. There’s something hilarious about a man in his mid-50s who hasn’t skated in over 30 years, thinking he can still do what he did in his 20s. 

The brain is saying, ‘Yes, you can still do it,” but the body is saying the complete opposite. OK, fine, that was me, but at least I got out there. 

It wasn’t an NHL moment, but for me it was the seventh period of overtime and I was on a breakaway. 

People bring extra skates, sticks and other equipment that other players might need. There was something special about picking up a hockey stick when I haven’t touched one in over a quarter century. 

Even lacing up the skates took some thought. “Should I lace the skates like the laces were a ladder or should I criss-cross them?” was one of my silly thoughts. 

Then there’s the sound. As soon as I got on the ice, I could hear a unique sound recognizable to most Canadians. It sounds like someone ripping paper after every stride of the skates. 

When I was a boy, my mother moved us to a small town. The elementary school I attended had an outdoor skating rink. The rink was right across from our house. In the evening, people of all ages would get together and play a game of shinny. 

I would run out and watch, find my favourite player, and cheer. After a while, I got to know some of the adults. When I was asked why I didn’t play, I told them I had no equipment. 

I didn’t tell them I didn’t know how to skate. One of the older adults said he had a son who owned an old pair of skates that might fit. I took the skates home and tried them on; they fit perfectly. 

These skates had to been made back in the 1940s, because they were made out of leather. Time hadn’t been kind because they looked like they have been around for a long time. 

But that didn’t matter to me, because they were my first skates and I loved them. Right after school, I would run home to grab them and head for the outdoor skating rink. 

At first I hung onto the boards, but it wasn’t long before I let go and started to skate. It took a while, but I felt confident to go and play in the mixed evening games. 

The man who gave me the skates was happy his son’s old skates were seeing action again. I wasn’t much of a player, but in my young mind I was Guy Lafleur.

And there I was, almost half a century later, back on the ice — on the duck pond. Music was blaring overhead, the fires surrounded the pond, and the sound of the skates on ice bounced around me.

I had the puck on a breakaway. I handled the puck like a pro, leaving the defencemen behind. I was heading towards the net like Gretzky. I was ready to take a shot when I fell flat on my face. I could hear laughter, but that didn’t matter because I was holding up another Canadian tradition — fall down seven times, get up on the eighth.