Behind the mask

“They get paid for that? It’s their job? I want that job!” – Daughter, having heard that you have to buy a ticket to a hockey game so that the clubs can pay the players’ salaries.

I can understand that she didn’t know the players were pros but it had never occurred to me that Daughter wouldn’t know you had to pay to go to a game. Then again, kids think different.


Back in the day when Dad started to take me to hockey games, the seats in the big Helsinki rink weren’t even seats, but long wooden benches, which made it easier for Dad and me, or Dad, his buddy, and me – two and a half men, if you will – to sit next to each other at games than it is now, with them fancy individual seats. (And yes, I’m bigger, too, wise guy).

Now, for a four-year-old, a hockey game was much more than a game, it was a big, in some cases life-altering event, starting from the moment we walked in through the doors, and Dad gave his doorman buddy a piece of paper for him to tear as if it were a ticket, and heard the sound of kids selling popcorn and game programs.

“POOOOOOOPCOOOOOOOOOORN!” yelled one, carrying a big box full of bags of popcorn around his neck.

“PROGRAM FOR A FIVER!” replied his buddy standing in front of the next section.

We walked in, often way up and to the side, because chances were there were empty spots. During the first period, Dad would then look around to see if there were empty seats in the lower sections, and if there were – which was often the case – we’d go down during the first intermission.

The best time to do that was right after the end of the first period when people were leaving their seats, and everybody was coming and going which kept the ushers busy and preoccupied. Dad’s buddy would sometimes go get us some snacks, popcorn, or sausages, and we’d sit on our places and hold a seat for him.

Back then, the intermission show was a slide show. As soon as the period ended, the rink went dark, and advertisements were projected on to the ice. Ads for Chicago chewing gum – click – and for motor oil. “FROM SHELL!” said a deep, deep, man’s voice. Click-a. Ads for shoes and clothes.

Then the lights went back on, and the teams got back to the ice as the cloud of cigarette smoke floated in the air.

I remember sitting there at a game, with my father and one of his buddies, watching another game, and suddenly realizing that the goalies sure were different from everybody else. The goalies looked different, very different, and what baffled me most, I never saw people like that on the streets.

Somehow I understood that the skaters were men, just like Dad, but I couldn’t understand that goalies, too, were just regular men with different kind of equipment. They looked so strange. Surely there was a special breed of people for that job. But where were they?

So I asked Dad.

“Oh, they’re just regular people who wear masks and thick pads,” he said.

“I can make you a mask like that if you’d like,” he added.

I did. But every once in a while, I still think it’d be nice to meet one of them goalies on the street.

How does that make you feel?