Frozen in time
My hometown didn’t have a hockey rink. And so I learned to play Canada’s game on my grandparents’ pond.
Granny and Grandpa lived in a centuryold farmhouse in rural Nova Scotia. The pond was located behind the house, sheltered by an apple orchard and a copse of birch, alder, and spruce.
After my barn chores were finished, I’d lace up my hand-me-down skates and then hit the ice. Usually, I’d pretend to be my idol, Guy “The Flower” Lafleur, the Montreal Canadiens sniper. Growing up in the Maritimes, most people cheered for either the Habs, the Toronto Maple Leafs, or even the Boston Bruins, a vestige of the region’s historic ties to New England.
With the moon and stars lighting the ice, I’d deke and weave among the cattails that poked up through the frozen pond — taking care not to fall into the hole my father had chopped in the ice earlier in the day so that our cows could be watered.
I’d rifle slapshots at the makeshift net I had created out of my toque and mittens, imagining that each shot was the goal that captured the Stanely Cup. (Without boards, though, the puck would usually careen out of the pond and fly into a nearby snowbank.)
Dreaming of making the National Hockey League has long been a rite of passage for many young Canadians. And, for a select few, it was a dream come true.
The first NHL game was played in 1917, and yes, much has changed since then. Hockey is a big business today, with ballooning budgets fuelled by television rights and merchandise sales.
But some things never change: Each generation creates its own heroes, from the pioneers of the sport, like “Babe” Dye and “Punch” Broadbent, to golden age stars like Maurice “Rocket” Richard and Gordie “Mr. Hockey” Howe, to Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky and beyond. It continues today: My nephew — himself a great little player — sleeps each night beneath a Sidney Crosby poster that’s pinned above his bed.
In this issue, we kick off the centennial year of the NHL with a package of stories that recalls some of the greatest games ever played, and we name the greatest player ever for each of the seven Canadian NHL teams.
Elsewhere, in this issue, we explore what winter was like in New France, and relive the heady days of the Klondike gold rush.
We hope you enjoy this skate through the past, and also that you take the opportunity to lace up and hit a rink — or pond — near you this winter.