I like hockey. That may seem strange being that Texas is known more for it's fragrant cattle feedlots, oil derricks, and cowboy boots than for ice, pucks and razor sharp skates. But we even have an NHL team here. The mighty Dallas Stars. (take that Grace) And between the minor leagues Texas has more professional hockey teams within its boundary than any other state in the U.S.. Here in Amarillo we have the Amarillo Gorillas who play in the CHL. I want this shirt. Feel free to buy it for me. I wear an XXL and prefer black. My wife reads this blog, so maybe she'll take a hint. Though it might go against some cosmic law to spend money earned as a Catholic school teacher on such. Back to the subject at hand.
But right now I'm not thinking about ice. I'm doing a bit of that looking back I talked about a few days ago. I'm thinking about concrete and wheels, ramshackle boards and dust covered rinks, late nights and buckets of sweat. Hot nights and foul smelling hockey bags. I'm thinking about my days of roller hockey. I miss it.
Once upon a time I coached a roller hockey team, and I'm right proud to say we were good. Dang good. I also played in an adult. I was bad. Dang bad.
But I did lead one stat every season. Penalty minutes. And unofficially, no one took as short of shifts as I did, but no one tracks stats on whose the most out of shape.
Our rink was basically a giant carport. We had a tin metal roof and steel beams to hold it up but the structure had no sides so before every game we would all grab brooms to sweep off the dirt that had blown in, otherwise the concrete was too slick and I didn't need any help busting my ass.
I nearly always played defense. As the biggest guy in the league my job was to agitate, and keep the area in front of my goal clear. On occasion if we were behind I'd be dispatched to the other end of the rink where I would park in front of their goalie and screen him. Of course, they would try to move me.
I miss the flying elbows. The sweat stinging my eyes. The muttered curses ... "Move your fat ass." "Get off me." "Shit, you're big."
The very first game I ever played was against a team of Air Force guys who came over from Cannon Air Base over in Clovis, New Mexico. I could skate but I hadn't quite mastered the art of stopping. Not thirty seconds after hoping over the boards I skated hard for a loose puck. As did the other teams fastest player.
I had ten feet to go.
He had twenty.
We go there at the same time.
To tell the truth I would have lost the game of chicken and stopped but I didn't know how. We both crashed to the concrete floor but he got up with a face covered in blood. Being shorter than me his nose had smashed against my chest. No penalty was called but I became a marked man every time we played that team. Yes, I even miss their slashes, hooks, and cross checks.
I miss being called a big hairy goon. I miss sliding my hands into the damp sweaty gloves just before leaping over the boards. I miss the solid feel of a hockey stick in my grip.
I miss dropping to the concrete. I miss the thud of a blocked puck thumping against me. I miss comparing bruises as we undressed after each game.
Sadly I didn't skate off the rink the last time I played.
It was a playoff game. Second round. Just before half. We were up by two when I skated back behind the goal and cleared the puck from our zone. Some fired it back into our corner and as I turned ...
Countless times I'd been slashed, mashed against the boards, tripped, crosschecked, hooked, punched, knocked down, and battered. Without any serious injury.
... my ankle folded. In half. Sideways.
I crawled off thinking it wasn't too bad. Until I unlaced my skate. The damage? Two broken bones. The ligaments and tendons in my ankle torn. One surgery, one metal plate, four screws, and nine months on crutches. (The entire time my wife was pregnant with our youngest.)
But damn, do I miss it.