The outdoor skating arena looked pretty much the same it always did. It wasn’t really a rink, not a hockey rink, anyway, because it was huge. On a good day, there’d be six or seven pickup hockey games going on at the same time, and half of the bandy arena was still available for people who just wanted to skate.
On one crisp December morning, though, there were no pickup games going on, because, well, it was cold and because the kids were supposed to be at school. The ice was clean and shiny under the lights that swayed a little in the wind.
I climbed up the stands, all the way to the top, and looked out to the arena. I saw just one boy skating out there.
He had a stick and a puck, but with no nets on the ice, he just skated around, turning every which way, flipping the puck onto the blade of his stick, and then again in the air, catching it inside the cuff of his glove.
A few minutes later, another kid came in, and yelled something out to the boy. He skated to the edge of the ice, and they spoke, before the boy returned to the ice and the other kid went back inside. When he came back out, he had a few friends with him, and by the time the big clock at the end of the arena was eight thirty, there was a whole school class out on the ice.
The girls skated around, talking, arm in arm, and the boys started a pickup hockey game at the other end of the ice. Four hats turned into goal posts, and the game was on.
The boy who had been there on his own was one of the four playing without a hat. He was the smallest of them, and every once in a while, a bigger boy would try to push him and make him fall, but mostly they failed. It was an even game, both teams scored a few goals, followed by big goal celebrations that included gliding on the ice on their bellies, doing the canoe, shooting down gloves, and riding a stick like a broom.
They were having a lot of fun. In fact, they were having so much fun that all the girls got a little closer – except a few who took advantage of everybody else watching the boys’ game and snuck out to have a cigarette – to see what was going on.
The girls were laughing, and pointing at the boys, and cheering them on, and with every cheer, the boys started to play a little harder, and skate a little faster. Then the girls went away, like they always go away, and the game settled down a little.
The teams took turns in scoring, and they still had big goal celebrations, but a lot of the time, many of the boys were glancing towards the girls, now skating on center ice, to see if they weren’t coming back. The girls had now formed a big chain, linking arms with each other, and in the middle of it all was their teacher, a young-looking woman, with a red hat covering her long dark hair.
The little boy who had been there first, stickhandled his way through the other team’s defence, and took a shot that went two meters wide, and straight towards the girls’ chain. The teacher saw the puck gliding towards her, and she stopped it with her skate and kicked it back to the boy.
“Thanks,” he said, and skated back to the game. Backwards.
One of the other boys threw his stick so it hit the puck and sent it flying back towards the girls. “Showing off! Jerk!” he yelled at the boy. The teacher kicked the puck to the boy again, this time he just thanked her and turned around.
The teacher and the girls skated closer to the game, and its pace picked up again. The little boy passed the puck to a teammate, and then skated as hard as he could around everybody to get the puck back. He skated, he passed the puck, he scored goals. He was everywhere.
When he stopped to wipe sweat off his brow, there was a cloud of steam hovering above him. He then put his glove back on, and returned to the game.
The girls and the teacher were cheering again. The game was tied or at least the boys all agreed it was, although who really knew?
The little boy got the puck from behind his own net, behind his own hat, to be exact. He looked at the teacher and saw she was clapping her hands, so he accelerated. He went around one player, two players, three players.
“Oh, look who’s trying to impress the substitute teacher,” he heard somebody say but he didn’t care, because he skated around a fourth player. He put the puck between a fifth player’s legs and caught it quickly behind him, and because they played with seven a side and a flying goalie, he knew he had just two more players to beat.
His teammates had already stopped playing, and just stood on the ice watching him as he skated around a sixth player, and then shot the puck between the last player’s legs. The shot was a little too hard, but it stayed on the ice, and nobody said anything about that.
The boy raised his arms above his head, and started to run on the ice, like Mike Bossy had done when he Bossy became the second player in the history of the NHL to score 50 goals in 50 games. He turned around to welcome his teammate’s congratulations, but there was nobody there.
“Jerk!” somebody yelled again.
The little boy skated to get the puck, and when he came back, the others had gone to the dressing room. He played with the puck, and skated slowly towards the main building.
“Well played, you’re good,” the teacher told him as he passed her.
“Thanks,” said the boy, flipped the puck onto his blade, and then threw it in the air, and caught it inside the cuff of his glove, before going in.
I remember that boy.