Ice hockey – who needs it? I certainly don’t.
Now I have to admit to those who don’t know me that I am first of all a soccer guy. My handle is Beautifulgamer for a reason (though I don’t play much footie any more).
I should also admit that, late in life, I’ve become a ball hockey player. And I love ball hockey.
So there, I grew up playing soccer and ice hockey – but now I’m a ball hockey player. It may seem strange (perhaps not as strange as David Foster Wallace’s Orin Incandenza turning his years at the Enfield Tennis Academy into an NFL kicking career – in the novel Infinite Jest) but it’s not that strange at all given that where I grew up in Canada guess what game I played more than any other?
Ball hockey. Yep. Street hockey. Every day. Whenever I could. With my friends and even by myself. If I’d played as much soccer as I did ball hockey when I was a kid, I probably would be a retired ex-professional footballer living in Europe somewhere. That’s how much ball hockey I played. It was what we did naturally in my community.
So, why am I riffing on ball hockey today? Well, that’s because I just read in my hometown Toronto Star about how the National (ice) Hockey League (NHL) has just released a study on how climate change could effect the future of its frozen game.
Here’s the piece > NHL warns hockey’s future threatened by climate change.
Now I have to admit that the NHL’s Sustainability Report is kind of cool. I like that they are behaving like good corporate citizens and I think it’s great that they can acknowledge that their game is vulnerable. I also have to admit that I’ve been an avid follower of NHL hockey. I grew up with it on the television and in my daily newspapers and can’t really stop following it. In that sense it is more a subject that I’m addicted to than a sport I’m actually involved in.
However, when I ocassionally pause to reflect on the sports I’ve played, I realize that from a participation standpoint ice hockey ranks behind soccer (which I played professionally) and even ball hockey (which I played in the streets). I quit playing ice hockey when I was sixteen and all I can remember about it (apart from my daily fantasies of playing in the NHL and being interviewed on Hockey Night in Canada) is crappy once a week house league games and a whole lot of nothingness. There were the odd all-star tryouts where I thought “Hey, these guys are not that good but my skating sucks.” But those glimmers only reinforced the emptiness and didn’t put me in the same frame as the NHL I was glued to on the television. And by the way I could count on two hands how many times I actually had the opportunity to play the outdoor ice hockey that the NHL’s Sustainability Report waxes on about.
But ball hockey? I cannot count the number of times I played. And it was the opposite of emptiness. Because I could just walk out my door, pick up my stick and either shoot for hours on an untended net on my driveway or jump into any number of pick-up games going on on the surrounding streets. Ball hockey made me dive into the elements of nature that I found outside my door. Mostly they were cool, grey, breezy evenings, sometimes punctuated by beautiful floating snowflakes, but which were mostly uplifted into an ecstatic glow by the joy I found in chasing down, controlling, passing and shooting that bouncing, elusive ball.
Bouncing, not sliding.
And in pursuit of that object, I ran. I ran and ran and ran. And breathed hard from the stopping and starting. I did not skate. l did not glide. I did not dig skates into a turn or send ice shards or a spray of snow on stopping. My feet were on ground, firm ground, sneakers laced to happy feet.
That’s what I remember. And that’s what I feel nowadays when I grind it out once a week at the rink – under open evening skies – with the old hockey boys in my neighbourhood. It seems like sacrilege but this soccer player who grew up in apparent ice hockey country thinks that ball hockey is better than both the ice version and the “world’s game”. To me ball hockey is actually the perfect combination of ice hockey and soccer. Come to think of it, given my handle, it makes me wonder why soccer should have a monopoly on the term beautiful game.
Ball hockey is a truly great – and beautiful – game that I think could be Canada’s game, if it’s not in it’s own subtle way already.
And you don’t need ice.
Think about it. If the NHL is so worried about the environment and being sustainable maybe they should just ditch the ice. In a world where you have to put up buildings and install refrigeration in order to produce hockey players, that would be the natural thing to do.