He was the new guy in class, or maybe I was the new guy in his class, since our new, third-grade class, was a result of merging two second-grade classes, but I’d only known him for a few weeks when he told me he’d take up hockey.
“I’m going to join a team,” he said.
He’d join a real team, that is. Somehow he knew that the local club was looking for new players. Maybe he’d heard his brother say it, maybe some of the club’s reps had been at our school, but I just remember that one afternoon he told me he was going, and I like to think he asked me if I, too, wanted to go.
Now, I’ve said it before, haven’t lied then, so I’ll say it again, and it’ll still be the truth: One of my earliest sensory memories is the smell of a hockey glove. When I was just a wee boy, I’d follow my Dad to work, and he’d make me goalie masks. Another smelly memory: the paint he used to paint them black.
Anyway, I knew hockey, had been to many games with Dad, and had even seen him play, but hadn’t ever really thought about joining a team. (I had joined a soccer team). But here was my chance, and if Dave (that may or may not be his real name) was going to go, maybe I could, too.
So I did. A few days later, I stood at the local market square – not really square, and not big enough for any market – and waited for a car. I wore full hockey equipment, including my helmet and the brand new red socks and the blue pants my parents had bought me at the biggest department store in town. It was so big, we had driven there once before, just to see how big it was, just like we had once driven to the harbor to see Finnjet, the biggest ship we’d ever seen.
Inside my little fist, I had ten precious Finnish markka that I was supposed to use to pay for the ice time as soon as somebody would pick me up.
Somebody. Anybody. I didn’t know who it would be that first time, but it turned out to be our coach, or both our coaches, and they’d fill the backseats of the cars with the kids waiting for a ride at the market square.
Before the practice, after we had put our skates on, there was always a moment that on some nights could make or break everything. Not all nights, or afternoons, to be exact, but some days I really hoped I’d be put in one specific group of players.
It was the one that Jore (that may or may not be his real name) was in charge of. He was the nice, gentle coach, while the other coach was a little tougher. Sometimes it was just nice to do the drills at Jore’s end of the rink.
Before our first game, when we got to wear our real sweaters for the first time, I was sitting next to Dave when the sweater flew through the air, and landed on our faces. I put mine on, and noticed the letter “A” on my chest. I had no idea what it was, so I asked Dave who always knew those things.
“Hey, Dave, what’s this ‘A’?” I said.
“That means that you’re the alternate captain, and I have the ‘C’ so I’m the captain,” he said, and pointed to the letter on his chest.
The coach that was not Jore heard that and threw new sweaters to us. I got the number 8. Dave was 18, and no longer the captain.
I only played that first year with the team, and instead, joined the club that Dad had played for. A couple of my teammates followed us there. One of the was Dave who then became a goalie, and a fine one at that.
On Tuesday, I lucked out again, as I found myself sitting across the table from Jore, “talkin’ about the old times”, that first year, and the guys on the team.
Later that night, I met Dave at a hockey game and I asked him how he had heard about the team, but he didn’t remember. And then we talked about those meetings at the square, the car rides to the rink, and that one tournament where our goal differential in four games was 0-40.
Then I told him that I had just had a cup of coffee with Jore, and his face lit up.
“How was that?” Dave asked me.
I told him it had been really nice.
“I bet,” Dave said.