The logic behind Hockey Day in Minnesota on Saturday was lost on the guy who takes care of a rink in the Birchwood Village neighborhood on the shore of White Bear Lake. It’s a day of watching hockey on TV, if you have cable or satellite TV and subscribe to Fox Sports North, which came up with the idea. He figures everyone who wants to watch the sport in the state of hockey, should be able to. He works hard to make sure everyone who wants to play it, can play it, too.
He was just finishing up shoveling the overnight and morning snowfall off the rink on Sunday. He had flooded it the night before. It is, of course, outside, just the way God intended hockey to be played.
So on Sunday we had our own Hockey Day in Minnesota, the first time — I have to admit — I’ve tried to play the sport since I played in a senior league. That was 1983 — 26 years ago — and I’m much more senior now.
When I was a kid, we played pond hockey and our hockey leagues always played in outdoor rinks. After our games, we’d all pick up shovels and clean the ice. Those days, I learned on Sunday, are gone.
“Kids today,” our snow-clearing benefactor said, “they drive around the neighborhood until they see me finish shoveling.” Then it’s hockey time. And they don’t shovel the ice when they’re done, he told us.
We arrived just as he was finished shoveling, oddly enough. After a bit of a warm-up, we were ready to organize a game among the 10 or so people who trickled in. When it’s time for strangers to play hockey, there are no words. One person throws his stick down at center ice, and then another, and another.
Then, someone picks through the pile, throwing one stick on one side of the rink, and another on another side, until all the sticks have been sorted. Wherever your stick ends up is the team you’re on.
We played for several hours, the snow still gently falling. The larger and younger players who had no trouble getting around me seeming larger and younger than ever before.
I scored a few goals, although I have to admit two of them came against the kid who was stuck in goal and wasn’t that interested in being there. His dad had dragged him off to the rink along with his brother, and he wasn’t about to enthusiastically work hard to keep our side from scoring on his team — a team featuring his dad, by the way.
We had a few little kids playing with us, and when one of them got the puck, we all slowed down and let them by us, pretending to put up a spirited defense. That made me smile until I realized that the younger and larger players were doing the same thing to me.
And then it was over. I told my hockey-playing pal it was time to leave; I had things to do and having a coronary wasn’t one of them.
Besides, I didn’t want to get stuck shoveling the ice.
Photo: Clearing White Bear Lake for hockey in 1909. Courtesy: Minnesota Historical Society.