The Career I Never Had

Happy Saturday!

As many of you know, I’m a big hockey fan. In particular, I’m an Edmonton Oilers fan. I’ve followed the team since 1979, their inaugural NHL season. Back when Wayne Gretzky was in his prime and setting records left, right, and center, I was a bartender and we always had the game on when they were playing.

I’m not what would be called a casual fan but neither am I one of those fans who knows all the stats, records, ice times and every last little detail about every player. I’m somewhere in between. I watch every game. I listen to a local radio station’s daily program called Oilers Now. I also listen to a podcast called The Cult of Hockey. Both are intelligent, informed discussion about the Edmonton Oilers. I find them fascinating to listen to and I’d love to sit down with the hosts of both, have a coffee or a beer, and talk Oilers hockey.

But, it wasn’t always thus.

Back when I started watching hockey, there were no Edmonton Oilers. In 1970, there were only 14 teams in the National Hockey League. As well as I can remember, we only got hockey on television once a week: on Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada. The team I cheered for the most was the Montreal Canadiens.

They were a heck of a team back then. With guys like Jean Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer, Ken Dryden, and Henri Richard. My favorite player, though, was Pete Mahovlich. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup that year. At five years old, they quickly became my first heroes. I loved watching them play. The way the play-by-play man, Danny Gallivan, called the game made it even more exciting.

Also, at around that time, I begged my parents to sign my up for a community league hockey team. I wanted to be just like my heroes. If memory serves, I got put on left wing. Although, with a team of five and six year olds, I highly doubt any of us stayed in our positions. From what I remember, for the most part, the players on both teams skated around, and if the puck came near any one of them, they’d skate toward the other teams net. (I use the term “skate” here, very loosely. If you’ve ever watched a five-year-old skate, it’s more like walking or stumbling on the ice, desperately hoping not to fall down.)

Back in those days, the community hockey team that I played for did not have an arena. We only had an outdoor rink and we played, as far as I can remember, regardless of the temperature. And, I mean, hockey is played in the winter. It’s not exactly suntan weather, anyway. I have several memories of getting into my dad’s car after a game with painfully cold feet.

My dad often tells the story of the time I got a breakaway. Seems to remember it quite vividly. I, too, remember it well. Can still see parts of it in my head as clear as day. I remember when I crossed center ice with the puck, “skating” as hard as I could (translation: stumbling quickly forward without falling down), all of the parents of my team were yelling their heads off. I distinctly remember looking toward them and spotting my dad cheering me on and waving me toward the other team’s net.

Going as furiously fast as I was, I had plenty of time to think about what I was going to do when I got to that net. Hilariously, shooting the puck and scoring a goal did not enter into it.

The night before, I had seen Pete Mahovlich score on a wrap-around. First time I’d ever seen one. Mahovlich flew around behind the net, burst out the other side and stuffed the puck into the goal. He celebrated with a huge smile on his face, almost running on the toes of his skates, right into the arms of his teammates.

Like I said before, I wanted to be just like my heroes. So, I decided that’s what I was going to do. It all worked out exactly like that, too. Except for flying around behind the net. And bursting out the other side. And stuffing the puck into the goal.

As I stumbled past the goalie to go behind the net, the puck slid off my stick. Not having the ability to stop, I tried to turn sharply enough that I could get the puck back, lost my balance, and fell on my ass. Pete Mahovlich, I was not.

In all fairness, I was only five years old. Although, I have no doubt that even today, at nearly fifty-seven years old, it’d still end up the same way. And why not? It’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun, right?

It’s probably a good thing I took up writing. Just sayin’.

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