Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Outside Hockey Part 2: The Participant

This is the second in a four part series on the different views of outdoor hockey.  Click here for Part 1.

Part 2: The Patricipant

I did it backwards.  I was born in Pittsburgh, PA.  I grew up outside of Harrisburg, PA.  I was 18 when I started playing ice hockey.  In Charleston, SC.  I never had the chance to play pond hockey growing up in the game.  I never knew if I'd had the chance but I longed for the opportunity.

Finally the chance came.

I landed in Pittsburgh in late December.  It was understandably cold and had been for a while.  The weather was supposed to warm up the next few days but the current temps remained delightfully around freezing.  This was winter.  I missed winter.

I made my way to my grandmother's house in Rennerdale, just outside of Carnegie.  It had been cold so I wanted to go down to the pond by the fire department and see if it had frozen over.  It was a neat sight that I did not get to see often.

When I arrived there I saw a group of teens playing pond hockey.  The pond was iced over and covered in snow.  They had a goal and one puck.  They were skating around like it was no big deal.  I jumped at the chance.  I asked if they had an extra right handed stick and said I'd be right back if they did.

I had my skates with me for one reason: the next day I would be participating in the media skate at Heinz Field for the 2011 Winter Classic.  If I hadn't had them I wouldn't have had this chance.  Suddenly tomorrow's big skate was not my focus, it became the chance to play outside.

They were ten years my junior so they'd blow by me.  I would get winded easily.  The ice was slushy and it made puck handling difficult.  We had to play post and I never scored.  No matter.  I was playing pond hockey.  Fresh, real ice.  Rippled, soft, and uneven.  I was outside and playing hockey the way it started.  I was finally doing it.

I stayed until it was dark, a good hour's worth of skating.  My back hurt, my legs were sore, and I'd pulled a few muscles.  It mattered not.  I played pond hockey.  There was a rush, a freedom, a uniqueness and sense of accomplishment with what I'd just done.  I couldn't believe how lucky I felt. As I warmed up in my grandmother's house I knew I'd just made a memory that would last forever.

The next day I was fortunate enough to skate at the rink on Heinz Field.  A few days later Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would be skating there but right then I was.  It was a unique, great, fun feeling.  It didn't stack up to the feeling I had of the day before, though.

The feeling of the wind at my face, nothing holding me down, no equipment but a stick and skates?  It was freedom.  It was fun.  It was what I'd always wanted and hoped for.  It was worth every bit of waiting I'd done and the surprise of the moment made it even more special.
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