Hockey over politics

Bob
Bob Wakeham
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With politicians accumulating almost as much air time as the ubiquitous Ryan Snodden — the desperate Michael Ignatieff trying to imitate, embarrassingly so, one of those phoney, fire and brimstone evangelicals, the spooky Stephen Harper showing just how gullible Canadians can be as he maintains his mystifyingly consistant lead in the polls, Jack Layton crippling across the country doing the sincere but fruitless NDP routine, Tom Marshall exploiting his budgetary power to try and win votes for next fall’s provincial election — is it any wonder many of us turn to hockey for relief?

I’ve never felt indebted to the country’s political prostitutes, but they — the federal types — at least happened to have timed their one-upmanship romp of 2011 to coincide with the Stanley Cup playoffs, thus enabling thousands of us to take full advantage of a delightful preponderance of hockey, a nightly and welcome distraction from the national con job.

But hockey has been much more for me than just a respite from politics over the years, this opportunity to let rip with a Richter scale-measuring "Scorrrrrre," an orgasmic-like scream for me, a blood-curdling noise for my wife and the dogs, a unworldly roar that dispatches all of them to the civility of any room in which they can escape the madman in front of the television set, doing his best impression of Jack Nicholson’s wacko character in “The Shining.”

Ironically, hockey has kept me sane, relatively so.  

Don’t fret: I won’t bore any readers (still hanging in) with a litany of rink-rat recollections. But watching the Bruins the other night reminded me of an extra-special game I saw in Boston a long time ago.

It was 1966, only three years after I had left Newfoundland, and I was in Boston Garden, the only New York Ranger fan among 13,000 Bruin fanatics, watching a crew-cut kid named Bobby Orr, in his rookie year, performing the kind of magic on ice that was already prompting the jaws of hockey fans throughout North American to drop in dumb-founding amazement.

My old man and I had flown up to Boston from New York, having been offered two tickets to Boston Garden from cousins of ours, members of the Bowe family, an American crowd whose parents had emigrated decades before to New England from Newfoundland (most of our relatives had never walked the home turf of their mother and father, but their roots were marvellously tangible, especially those genes with a direct link to warmth, humour, storytelling prowess and unpretentiousness). 

It was 45 years ago and I was a mere 16 years old, but I still recall details of that game, especially the last minute when Boston, trailing 4-3 to the Rangers (who had Boom Boom Geoffrion on the team, the great Montreal star who had come out of retirement to help the hapless New Yorkers), pulled their goalie.

And Orr, doing what he would eventually do hundreds of times during the course of his unfortunately short but brilliant career, scored on a slapshot from the blue line to tie the game with less than a minute left. Ed Giacomin barely moved.

As a Ranger fan, I was disappointed in the outcome, and was booed lustily by the never subtle Bruin followers as I made my exit from the Garden, a filthy and rodent-infested rink that had, nevertheless, a sense of intimacy that I’ve never experienced in any other arena or ballpark since.

Having grown up in Gander watching senior hockey, and being star-struck by local  players like Hughie Wadden of the Buchans Miners and the Faulkners of the Conception Bay Cee-Bees, it was pretty heady stuff to be sitting in the Boston Garden stands, being entertained by the likes of Orr, Geoffrion, Rod Gilbert and company.

On two other fortunate occasions, I had a chance to see the magnificent Orr, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and the Spectrum in Philadelphia, exhilarating events that seemed to somehow ameliorate (as did other opportunities to watch professional sports) my profound homesickness for Newfoundland.

I have a T-shirt with a Ranger emblem and an imprint that reads: “Hockey Is Life. The Rest Is Just Details.”

A foolish exaggeration of credit for the spectacle of fellas (mostly) chasing a frozen disc around the ice, and, yes, totally without realistic perspective, a value judgement of sports that non-jock fans would undoubtedly believe reflects the mantra of a shallow cement-head who really needs to get a life. 

But they can treat themselves to all the boring leadership debates they can hack, and take an excitable interest in this national circus — I mean election — one that will change very little, if anything, about their existence. 

I’ll catch the Rangers and the Capitals. 

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Rangers, North American, Conception Bay Cee-Bees Spectrum Capitals

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Boston, New York New England Montreal Gander Maple Leaf Gardens Toronto Philadelphia

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