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Finding Use In A Broken Stick.

Posted: December 31st, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »


While I was home on break, I went to a hockey game with my family. Being in the rink reminded me of a pivotal hockey memory, one that I’m going to remember for a long, long time.


I was fortunate as a kid that Amerk games were a pretty regular occurrence, thanks to an aunt and uncle who used to allow my brother and me to tag along and holler nonsensical taunts until our throats went dry (’cause when you’re four, shouting “your mother was a toaster and your father was a snowplow!” makes total sense…). They picked us up on Friday nights and, as habit dictated, we got to the rink early, dropped off our coats at our seats, and walked down to ice level to watch the warmups.

Because our seats were on the horseshoe at the end of the arena the visitors defended twice, and because the Amerks end was always crowded, we usually stood watching the visitors take shots. It was good, ’cause we already knew all the Amerks but this gave us a chance to scout the other teams and figure out who we — and the hometown team — should be on the lookout for. And I particularly enjoyed the closeup view of the goalies.

On a particular night that I can recall, we went down to watch the warmups the way we always did, as the Hershey Bears took the ice. I was probably only six or seven then and I don’t remember much of the night, but there are some things that still come to mind: the old green leather seats and the buzz from the high bay lights hanging from the rafters that were turned off during the periods, and the slick steps that became slicker when beer was spilled and slush melted from boots. And there was the billboard at the other end of the ice that reiterated what we were all thinking: “Boy could I go for a Genny now?” (well, I’m not sure I was thinking it then, but I bet everyone else was…).

The pre-game warmup is generally a pretty casual affair. Players get the blood flowing and their hearts beating, goalies get a feel for the puck, and coaches rarely involve themselves. So the show lacks any real excitement; you don’t see many big saves, you don’t see puck battles or defense being played, and I’d bet there’s never been a check thrown amongst teammates before the game starts. But you get to see players loosened up, horsing around a little and enjoying themselves. They’re focused, but not in the way they are during the game.

And so, sometimes they interact with the fans.

At some point during the shootaround, Hershey’s goalie broke his stick. Leaving players to shoot on an empty net, he skated towards us to the bench to get a new one. I watched as the equipment manager chose a replacement from a stack behind the bench. I couldn’t wait to play pro hockey so I’d have an unlimited supply of sticks to choose from (though, being only six or seven years old, I’d never actually broken one myself, so I didn’t really need a backup, let alone a closetful of them). And as the goalie was handing the broken stick over, he tapped it on the glass in front of me and said something to the equipment manager. I couldn’t hear what he said, but as soon as he skated away, the equipment manager motioned for my uncle to come to the glass then pointed at me. As soon as we understood what he meant, he lofted the stick over and gave me a thumbs up.

I don’t remember much about the game, except that it went into overtime and that I was probably the only Amerks fan rooting for the Bears to win it. I also remember the goalie’s name: Scott LaGrand.

It’s rare that the warmup is better than the game — and rightly so — but I was the envy of every kid in our section and every kid we passed on the way to the car that night. On subsequent nights in my bedroom, I pretended to defend an imaginary goal from imaginary opponents with that stick. When I began playing goal a few years later, I made sure the tape job on my sticks followed the exact pattern. I even used the same brand for a long time.

I’m still not sure who won the game that night, but who cares? I remember enough.

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