The puck slides across the ice at a speed that is hard to follow. So it is with time, which became more poignant the other night gazing on the "all-American" scene of a group of young men playing pond hockey at a local residence and realizing that the last picture taken was when they were just high school boys. Where did those years go, and was it that long ago that a column was written describing the draw to the frozen body of water? Now they have gone their separate ways, but while home during college break came together again for an old-time, favorite pursuit. One of the young men even commented that he had been looking forward to it, and it would have been a big disappointment if they had not been able to skate. Fortunately, the weather cooperated long enough in early January for some ice time.
Shinny, an early and simple form of hockey, is more commonly known as pick-up or pond hockey. In the early days it was a much more informal game with makeshift sticks that could have been as simple as tree branches and broom handles. A puck could have been a tin can or piece of wood. As most of us know, today there are leagues organized by age with protective equipment and specific rules in regulation rinks. These young men have grown up in such leagues but with their love of the sport and abounding energy, still love the chance to have at it in a natural setting with friendly surroundings. Many older people like to look upon the scene from the warmth of the house, but the skaters embrace the cold and like everything about it.
This year has been somewhat unique in that we have not had many days of sub-freezing temperatures or snow which made the ice a bit different. At the time of skating, the ice had frozen quickly without wind and snow, which made plants and rocks below the surface visible. Ordinarily this has not been the case. In other years there is much grooming to be done. This includes shoveling and preparing the surface. A hole is made in the ice and water is swept across the surface to make it smooth. In fact, often just as much time is spent preparing the ice as skating on it.
A group of young men recently played night pond hockey at a local residence. Pictured from left to right are Tom Hart, Matt Ludwig, Anthony Polvino, Kevin Schwertfager, Markus Deas and John Jamieson.
It's all part of the experience, and as one young man shared, "There's something about the moon shining across the ice and smelling the smoke from the chimney of the near-by house in anticipation of scrimmaging with your friends and the sound of blades cutting the new ice." In times past when boys, they even once made an igloo complete with a smoke hole and fire to warm their hands.
Since that time a few years ago, organized and professional outdoor hockey has become more popular. In fact, it was that same year that the first NHL Winter Classic was held at Ralph Wilson Stadium between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins with a record crowd of more than 70,000. The Classic is now part of the permanent NHL schedule. While professionals have the advantage of technology to make and maintain the ice, pick-up players rely on the weather. This year has not had prolonged temperatures to make it an everyday opportunity, but when it does cooperate, the players don't mind the cold. They seem to be oblivious to the cold air and often accompanying biting winds and can skate for hours with little thought of food or drink.
Pond hockey is not the Winter Classic or even the fabricated rinks in some backyards. It's the ultimate old-fashioned fun on a natural body of water. It's about taking advantage of the weather we usually have in western New York. As far as taking the updated photo a few days ago of these now young men, it was nice to see and hear the fun, but difficult to hold the camera phone without gloves in the cold wind. We left it to the players and went inside to observe them in the coziness of our home with a mug of hot chocolate.
Make it a good week, enjoy whatever weather we have, and thanks for reading, Mary and Rosamond