I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I played street hockey almost every day of my adolescence. I would come home from school, maybe eat something, do a little homework (or not) and then get the hockey gear. From the moment the first leaves fell from the trees, we would turn our local tennis court into hockey court, much to the chagrin of local tennis players but they were powerless against us.
Guest Park, in the Delaware County suburb of Havertown, was the ideal place for our hockey shenanigans, nestled behind a residential area, in the woods, far from any residential road and the constant interruption of side-street traffic. We played hockey here almost unmolested.
We usually had enough for 3 on 3 plus padded goalies ( if not, we just flipped the nets down and turned them around). The nets! Those flimsy, Kiddie City bought dealies would never stand up to our incessant net crashing. We crafted sturdy pipes from 2x4s and later moved on to PVC pipe for it’s easy mobility.
Our tight group definitely had balls. Orange ones, pink ones, blue ones? Weather dictated the color of the ball we used, but regardless of the tint or hardness, a slap shot to the upper thigh was the epitome of pain.
Doctor: Tell me on a scale of 1-10 how much pain you are feeling.
Me: Doc, I’m at about a pink hockey ball to the upper body.
Doctor: (somberly) nurse, prepare our finest painkillers.
We desperately wanted to emulate our NHL heroes on that tennis court. We stood in front of slap shots, without a thought that unlike our heroes, we had little to no padding ( or jock protection). We threw our friends into the “boards” (more precisely, a rusty, pointy chain- link fence). We slashed at sticks and bare shins and we loved it through the tears and pain.
Our group saw the rise from playing on foot, to the new and improved inline skates that turned our amateur games into NHL paced speed shows. Or so we thought.
Once, having access to video camera equipment, we decided to ” capture the excitement” of our games. A thrilling memory, captured for eternity. However upon sitting down to watch our games, we came to the realization how important a role production effects and good commentary ( ALL HAIL EMRICK!) plays in televised hockey.
Goals, assists and checking were our drugs (accompanied by orange Gatorade and Combos). I managed to stay out of trouble in my adolescence thanks to the sweet allure of street hockey and for that, I owe those games a serious debt.
These days, while I still have the mind of that skinny kid with stinky gloves running rampant around the court, the body fails to cooperate, and I’m left with these scattered yet vivid memories.
To those of you still able to lace up the Roller Blades or who still have that spirit inside though the flesh may be a bit more flabby, God Bless and good luck. Embrace your inner Gretzky and unleash those orange balls. And may you gain satisfaction whether it hits your opponent’s body or the back of the net.