The Backyard Rink


  I impatiently took another look over the neighbouring yards for the flash of the lamp. As audacious as I am about enjoying the almost panaceaic backyard rink, I wait. David, Ron or Paul will turn on the light as a self-imposed signal of approval for my invasion. As I '"planned", on goes the floodlight, and seconds later Ron takes to the ice with quick smooth strides and glides, circling the ice like a gull hovering just above the ocean's surface. In a matter of minutes I'm at the rink, brazenly with my skates already implanted on my feet. No time wasted. I take to the ice and ask Ron if anyone else is planning to show up. Ron just shrugs. Ron is the middle member of the three Lawrence's, not nicknamed "Red" despite this obvious anomaly.

     It was nine o'clock in the evening. The moonlight was bouncing it's razor sharp streams of the icy banks of snow, rising high over the narrow boards. It was almost glacial, and the ice was balck and as hard as granite. The row of cedars delineated the boundaries of the yard, in the almost mistral nght. I skated, without design and Ron, more formatively, not saying too much. He probably expected me to engage in my Eddie Shack impersonation, including the required script. The sound of voices rolled from the north corner of the split-level suburban bungalow, as Scott, Gord , Reg and Richard appeared. Now, the lamp overlooking the rink took on a warmer hue. There was now the more inspired sounds of slashing blades, slapping sticks and the puck careening of the boards. Echoes of pass...pass...pass... resounded through the dense crisp air. Scamp, the white collared black terrier barked as Ron flew over the rangy Reg's knee which protruded like the bough of an oak tree. He landed in the bank, stopping with his arm extended, and his partly exposed hand. A mild expletive came from lips, as the puck slid unceremoniously into the corner. Gord, head down, skated feverishly into the corner like a hungry beaver (even though he was not of the Gibson Beaver variety). He blindly threw a pass toward the exposed goal. Richard, skating smoothly cut in front of the net and almost calamitiously put down his stick. The puck bounced of his stick and shamefully entered the goal. I, despite being in opposition, shouted "He scores". Off the face-off, the puck was victimized by the simultaneous impact of two opposing sticks. It squirted like a jet of lemon into the shrubbery. The inclination to maintain the flow of play ensued. Paul hacked almost savagely at the helpless bushes in order to retain the puck. Finally realizing that his attempts have been thwarted, he crouched over, took hold of the puck and threw it heedlessly over his shoulder. It, as if by the stroke of a wizard, it landed right at centre ice.

    Being a frigid night a short break was required, to relieve our frosty toes. Twelve dull but rough edged  blades rattled over the green acrylic tile, already showing indications of a parade of previous players. The boys sat in the ante-room, accompanied by the strains of Hockey Night in Canada, coming from a diminutive black and white portable television. The journeymen, better known as the Flyers, benefitting from a weak-kneed league, were leading the Leafs by a goal going into the third period. Lanny was injured in the second, thus reducing the already slim chance of a comeback. Maybe it was time for Kelly's pyramid power. A tootless Bobby Clarke, interviewed before the puck was dropped, declared his extra motivation to win at the Gardens, and to keep his arch rival Darryl Sittler off the score-sheet. There was the distinctive smell of stale, almost putrid socks, musty leather gloves, and hockey pads left in the damp basement over the summer. Our nasal passages appeared to be accustomed to this inconvenience as we spoke only of missed chances around the goal and a handful of "dirty" checks. Joining us in the dressing room were David and Paul Lawrence, adding more skill to the current combination of grit and finesse. David was the oldest of the Lawrences, tall and dark, and was reputedly the most accomplished player, but humbly so. It was decided, as the teams were re-arranged that there was a necessity for interim goaltenders. David, formerly of DeWalt Industries, took one net while Paul, a skilled playmaker, reluctantly took the other. Paul was the youngest of the three brothers, still possessing the hockey  inclinations seemingly inherited throughout the clan. Paul being in goal was an alternative to the option of myself, as I  carried with me a mystique generated by the previous introduction of some interesting puck-stopping gear...memories of protruding nails, tacks, thorny plywood and a long trail of electrical tape.

     As play began, Scott, from six houses up the street was a victim of Reg's brawny torso and was forced to spin out of control. But before he completely lost his balance he took a random slap at the puck. The disc skwirmed its way through a number of players, avoiding sticks like a fly avoids swats, and David, partially screened, was forced to cover it with his glove. I, in what I like to call my diligence, tried to propell the puck into the net from under David's vulnerable hand. This caused David some understandable consternation, as his hand felt like it had been guillotined. He hurdled to his feet and lunged toward me, expressing some degree of physical contempt. Mr. Lawrence, who happened to have a box seat, located just to the west of his armchair, commonly known as the kitchen window, came to the resue of this incident. He stated to me firmly but in a reasonable tone that my etiquette was in question and that I should remove myself from the ice surface. I was in no position to question the Captain of the Go Home Racoon or the proprietor of the "arena". I left willingly, but to show my manhood, did a Kent Douglas like exit.

I, with my ankles at an awkward angle dejectedly headed home, passing through the shaded area between the houses as the green siding failed to reflect the warmth of of the scurrying bodies on the ice. I passed by the saddle-tan station-wagon and then proceeded, turning at Barwell, unsure whether or not to cross at the corner, or cross later, dodging the ditch adjacent to my families home. Taking the immediate route to the north-side, I glanced through the willow tree in the foreground and saw seven boys, clashing at centre ice. Friends at play. Competing but with no thoughts of victoy or defeat. They have all won because of the solace and comfort of this wonderful  welcoming place. The backyard rink.

Writtem 11-17-04

Edited 09-30-08

Special thanks to Fred, David, Ron and Paul for their hard work, hospitality and patience.

To the memory of Fred and Betty Lawrence 

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