Last night marked a return to the ice after a three month self-imposed hiatus. What with The Heathens in full sports swing during the hottest months of summer (brilliant), it seemed parentally prudent to take a season off from the men’s rec hockey league, give the old blades a rest. By spending some time at the gym and riding my bike to work occasionally, I’d hoped to keep in enough cardio shape to prevent a stroke from happening upon my return. It was a big mistake.
The fire department has a loosely organized team of fools who’ve decided “yeah, hockey, that sounds like a good idea.” So most of us, for the first time, decided to learn to skate, spend an ungodly amount on gear and form a team. That was about six years ago, and each season, the group grows by one or two guys until we’ve finally gotten enough to field an actual team. It’s been a blast, no doubt, complete with locker room antics and smells, road trips to tournaments and age inappropriate behavior. We may be trying to re-create our squandered youth or maybe it’s the idea of chasing other people around with a stick that appeals to the little boy in each of us. It matters not what our motivation seems to be, but the consequences of choosing ice hockey at an age when most professionals are retiring has provided more than bruised egos and bodies. It’s been the source of guffaws for every spouse or random soul who’s been down to the ice park on a Sunday night.
I wish I could accurately describe the pain that surged through my beaten down corpse after one measely game. You ever see one of those unfortunate armadillos that is laying toes up on the highway with parts scattered all over? I would wager it felt a little something like how that thing looks. Pre-game, we all laced up in the locker room and gave each other the expected razzing over creaky joints and achy bones, while the hockey rookies looked around nervously, as though maybe this decision to play a game that involves this much safety equipment was a pretty stupid one. We stumbled out onto the ice to the capacity crowd of, I counted, fifteen spectators. And two brutal hours later, we limp-skated off, the five remaining die-hard fans laughing themselves into asthma attacks. It’s hard to sell hockey in bass fishing and turkey killing country. My own wife won’t even waste her time going to the rink, insisting “it’s cold in there.” How can I argue with that?
As for me, I think the reason I like hockey so much is that it embodies much of the same code of conduct as the firehouse. You got guys that you would never trust with your daughter but that you intrinsically trust with your own safety; the rink provides an environment in which people who have no other common denominator get together to enjoy the harassment and shenanigans that hockey provides. We cajole and congratulate with equal enthusiasm, we sit around and complain about one another; it’s as close to the kitchen table in a firehouse as I can find. I may suck at hockey, but I am damn good at drinking beer, a common post-game decompression strategy that we employ frequently. And despite the fact that we all look like a pack of escaped mental patients having meth fits out on the ice, there is nowhere else I can have that much fun while dancing that close to a cardiac event, save for a good house fire.
I think the bruises are worth it.