Not quite old-time hockey

On New Year’s day, over 100,000 people braved freezing temperatures in Ann Arbor, Michigan to attend the University of Michigan and watch the Winter Classic hockey game between Detroit and Toronto.

There is not normally a hockey rink on the field at the university, but millions of dollars were spent to make millions of dollars so fans could come and watch a hockey game outdoors. Not exactly like the old-timer with a hose who comes out to flood the local rink, but it seems to have attracted a lot of interest.

During the game, the announcers kept repeating the phrase, “just like old time hockey from days gone by.” I wish my Dad could have been sitting on the couch beside me watching this game. I could hear his running narrative arguing with everything the commentators were saying.

We have a couple of old black and white team photos of my Dad’s hockey team from Edam, Saskatchewan. They are a tough-looking group of unsmiling prairie farm boys, and according to Dad, they were feared wherever they went.

So when the commentators talk about the hand warmers the players have inside their gloves, I would have heard about the one pair of gloves Dad had to last an entire season. By the last few games there were holes in the fingers and the palms.

When they showed the propane heaters at the players’ benches, I would have heard the story about how the opposing team didn’t clear the snow or ice from the visitors’ benches, and if you sat down you froze to the wood. There was no warm air to comfort the players when they came off the ice.

When they showed the ‘retro pads’ the goalies were wearing, I recalled how one day I told Dad I needed shin pads for soccer. I heard the story about when he played hockey no one could afford shin pads so they had catalogues or newspapers stuffed inside their socks, held in place with skate laces or binder twine.

The old pictures show very little padding and no helmets or cages. A lady comedian observed once that male hockey players started wearing jock straps almost 100 years before they started wearing helmets. It’s all about priorities when it comes to protection.

If a player did get injured in the Winter Classic, the trainer and the team doctor whisked them away to the warm confines of the dressing room. Dad would tell stories about players continuing to play with broken bones or cuts because there weren’t enough players to allow someone to sit out. A Band-aid or cigarette paper would be put over a cut or, if it was bad enough, the coach or another player would stitch it up with a needle and thread.

When the commentator talked about the team buses having problems getting through the snow and the traffic, Dad would have scoffed and regaled me with the stories about five or six guys jammed into a car travelling miles across frozen grid roads. If the wheels bounced out of the ruts, the players would get out and lift the car back in place.

But I guess if you have million dollar players, it’s a good idea to keep your investment warm and comfortable. After all, we wouldn’t want them to go on strike. I think that Edam team could have beat the Maple Leafs. At least that’s what McGregor says.

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