On Saturday, December 11th, Michigan University hosted Michigan State in an outdoor hockey game in the BIG HOUSE. What an event it was! A world-record crowd of 113,411 watched Michigan beat rival Michigan State, 5-0. The game wasn’t great but the atmosphere was outstanding. The team colors, the bands, the fireworks, the College spirit, the rivalry between the two teams and the “I was there” attitude all contributed to a very special event. Outdoor games in large stadium such as this have more to do with the event than it does with the game itself. The NHL is preparing for another outdoor game in Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day. I attended the 2009 NHL Winter Classic in Chicago. What an extraordinary day it was for my family and friends. The snow around the rink, the special winter decor, the star-studded presentations and the air force bombers flying overhead following the National Anthem all contributed to create a surreal, almost fictional world.
Playing outdoors is very familiar to me. As a youngster growing up in Rigaud, Quebec, my friends and I spent many hours on a rink in the neighbor’s yard just across the street from my home on rue Ste-Madeleine. We used to gather there after school and almost all day long during week-ends. It seems like we played on and on. We divided teams. It didn’t seem to matter who won or lost, we just had a great time. We made the rink ourselves and took care of it, shoveling snow after storms, watering and making boards with icy snow. We built the rink near the house so that we could at least have one side that we didn’t have to chase the puck when it was shot over our make shift board. My friend’s parents, the Cadieux, weren’t very happy when we shot the puck against the house but we always managed to get away with it occasionally.
There was a window leading to the basement of the house. Whenever we wanted to flood the ice, we would ask Mrs. Cadieux to open the window, take out the hose and after a good scrape and realigning the boards, we would pour water onto the ice. On some nights, it was so cold outside that the water would freeze instantly. I still get “goose bumps” recalling those chilly nights flooding the rink.
That’s where I learned how to skate and where my goaltending career originated. . . well sort of. . .There was a set of old goalie equipment laying around that nobody really wanted. I was always happy to volunteer as the goalie. For some reason, I always had a passion for goalies growing up. I used to get up early on many Saturday mornings, ignoring my mother’s cry for mercy, I would throw a ball against the wall, make a pretend goal behind me and imagine that I was an NHL goalie winning the big game for the Stanley Cup.
I’ve gone back to the street where we had that skating rink. For some strange reason, it seems like it was much bigger then. That yard must have shrunk over the years. The hill I used to climb to go to school also seemed a lot smaller than it was when I was a kid. I guess its all part of getting older. The dreams and fantasies I used to have as a kid may have also shrunk but the feelings and the memories of the outdoor rink on rue Ste-Madeleine still remain very dear and clear.
HAVE A GREAT HOCKEY DAY!