Spending the weekend in Mr. Peabody's 'Wayback Machine'
Write to the Point
It was just intended to be a road trip, an extended weekend winter getaway with my wife and some friends.
But last week’s trek to attend the Montana Pond Hockey Classic in sunny one moment, and sideways snowy the next Kalispell, Mont., was also like time spent in Mr. Peabody’s 1960s Wayback Machine.
As readers may know hockey and I are somewhat surgically — and I guess genetically — attached at the hip. My grandfather played the game over 100 years ago in Rossland, British Columbia, and did so, he said, against a future Hockey Hall of Famer, Lester Patrick from nearby Nelson. Bill Ehlers blocked shots with shin pads fashioned from old Simpson-Sears catalogs tucked under his thigh-high socks.
The Montana Classic was the third event in a franchise that includes similar events first staged on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire in 2008 and Lake Champlain in Colchester, Vermont in 2012. The latest Lake Winnipesaukee PHC saw 175 teams compete while 57 took the ice at Lake Champlain and 51 ventured to Foys Lake last weekend.
It was the pond at Manito Park where as a kid in the 1960s I first got to scratch that ice itch. That came by lacing up some old hand-me-down skates I found in the attic. The boys and I got rides from our parents from the far north side and regularly took over large parts of the pond.
The ice was generally smooth as can be because parks people routinely shoveled the pond and resurfaced it by dragging out the fire hoses and turning on the hydrants. There was always a warming fire, too.
We were trying to be like the Spokane Jets, who we’d watch virtually every Saturday night in the old Coliseum playing games against little British Columbia towns like Trail, Nelson, Kimberley and Cranbrook.
About 20 years ago my wife was excited one day to report that a nice couple had moved into the house across the street. Turns out, my new neighbor was Barry Holmes, one of those guys I used to watch when he skated with both Nelson and Trail.
And in what I call a stroke of luck, one day “Homer” offered an invite, mostly out of monetary need — hardly from a talent standpoint — to be part of the Spokane Oldtimers Hockey Association that had an older group of skaters splinter off and needed — in my case — warm bodies to skate in a new Spokane Valley ice rink.
My first trip to our twice-weekly skates had me pinching myself because I was in the same locker room and on the same ice as some of my childhood heroes from those old Jets’ days like Don Scherza and Dwight Carruthers, among others.
While their speeds had slowed as they reached their mid-50s, the skills and hand-eye coordination was certainly still there.
Fast-forward to last weekend in Kalispell where I had hoped to join the Kootenay Glacier Kings for play in the Over-35 Just-For-Fun division. It would be two days of skating on that natural ice played on rinks measuring 150-feet long by 75 feet wide. Think of it as hockey’s HoopFest.
But as luck would have it, every one of the 60-something skaters made it through the border in time so I was relegated to being the water guy/photographer/taxi driver.
No worries not being able to skate on the rough and fractured ice and through periodic piles of snow. Catching a skate blade in a crack and possibly doing damage to an ankle or knee? No thanks.
So in return, over post-game beverages, I got to be the ever-inquisitive reporter.
It was great to learn that my neighbor Barry, and Cranbrook’s Brian Dickie were once budding stars in 1966 with the Swift Current Broncos in Saskatchewan. They had yellowed old photos to prove it. And Brian and his wife, Donna, were sweethearts then, as they still are today as husband and wife.
Funny, too, in the birthplace of hockey in Canada, I was surprised to learn that Glacier King members, Wayne Florko from Trail and Adrian Blais from the Kimberly area, didn’t much like the natural pond ice.
They rarely skated on it like I had. Perhaps that’s because every little berg in Canada seems to have an ice rink, much like we in the U.S. have McDonalds.
And maybe that’s why we don’t win many Olympic gold medals in hockey?
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.