Re­mem­ber­ing hockey night in Branch

The Compass - - OPINION - — Ma­rina Power Gam­bin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She is a re­tired teacher who lives in Pla­cen­tia, where she taught for al­most three decades. She can be reached at mari­nagam­bin@per­

I have been a Mon­treal Cana­di­ens fan since the 1950s, when Sher­riff ’s Jelly Pow­der was pro­mot­ing its dessert by adding small, round, plas­tic-framed hockey pic­tures to the pack­ages.

Those were the days of the orig­i­nal six NHL teams.

In a small com­mu­nity like Branch, it might just as well have been two teams. If you were not a Habs sup­porter, in most cases, you cheered for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I say “in most cases” be­cause there was an ex­cep­tion to the Mon­treal ver­sus Toronto fol­low­ing.

I can still pic­ture my great-un­cle Peter Willy Nash and his wife Aunt Mag­gie Mae sit­ting close to their big RCA Vic­tor ra­dio, wait­ing for Fos­ter He­witt’s “Hello, Canada, and hockey fans …”

If the fa­mous Gordie Howe and his Detroit Red Wings were play­ing, you had bet­ter not speak, sneeze, cough or even shuf­fle your feet for the next cou­ple of hours. A faded photo of a youth­ful Howe smiled down from the kitchen wall­pa­per where it hung in the com­pany of the Blessed Vir­gin, the Sa­cred Heart and Pope Pius XII.

I have no idea how this lovely cou­ple be­gan their love af­fair with the Red Wings or with hockey, for that mat­ter. I do know that their fa­mil­iar­ity with the game and the play­ers was amaz­ing. As hockey fans go, these people were ahead of their time.

A noisy house

Our ra­dio was a Rogers Ma­jes­tic and it sat atop a large Eveready bat­tery with “the cat with nine lives” sym­bol por­trayed smartly on the side. On win­ter Satur­day nights, our kitchen daybed would be filled with hockey pa­trons who lis­tened, cheered and of­ten ar­gued when opin­ions clashed.

With the wind whistling out­side and a baby or two cry­ing, there were times when our house on the hill was as noisy as Maple Leaf Gar­dens. More of­ten than not, our rough com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem com­pletely let us down and through the static you couldn’t tel l if Rocket Richard or Frank Ma­hovlich had scored.

My gen­tle fa­ther, when his pa­tience had worn thin, might say, “As sure as God made lit­tle ap­ples, ye won’t be lis­ten­ing to hockey here next Satur­day night.” He never kept his threat, how­ever, and the next Satur­day night found us again all lined off on the daybed wait­ing ex­cit­edly for the call from Fos­ter He­witt.

In the early 1960s, Hockey Night in Canada came to Branch, big time. The par­ish pro­vided the lo­cal hall with a black and white tele­vi­sion and for a small fee, the use of its gen­er­a­tor (or Dy­namo, as we called it). Throw in one large an­tenna and you would think that ev­ery­thing would run fine and dandy. Not so.

Tele­vi­sion re­cep­tion in Branch left much to be de­sired. There were times when Boom Boom Ge­of­frion and Jean Be­liv­eau were noth­ing more than ghostly fig­ures on a snowy screen.

Fum­bling for re­cep­tion

At play­off time, a group of hock­ey­crazed young men would work zeal­ously, of­ten in freez­ing weather con­di­tions, on the rooftop of the par­ish hall, twist­ing the an­tenna ev­ery which way.

From the door­way and the win­dows and in­side the build­ing, an­other group would be shout­ing di­rec­tions to them.

“Turn it to­wards the church! No, to­wards the cove! Go up a bit! Bring it down! Good! We have a pic­ture now! No wait! It’s all snow again! Hold it there! It’s clear again!”

I would go on home to sup­per feel­ing con­fi­dent that these ded­i­cated devo­tees would not give up un­til they had ex­hausted ev­ery at­tempt to bring some sem­blance of “Hockey Night in Canada” to our lit­tle fish­ing vil­lage.

Thanks to satel­lite dishes, ca­ble com­pa­nies and the like, to­day I can watch this great Cana­dian event in high def­i­ni­tion on a per­fect colour screen. With the help of in­stant re­plays, ex­pert anal­y­sis and sev­eral sports sta­tions, I miss noth­ing.

Truth be told, I’d trade all this if I could one more time see the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens hoist Lord Stan­ley on a snowy screen, from the dis­com­fort of a hard bench in a cold build­ing. The ex­cite­ment, ca­ma­raderie, ri­valry and sheer en­joy­ment of the whole ex­pe­ri­ence will stay with me for­ever.

And, oh yes, as the play­offs loom on the NHL hori­zon, “Go, Cana­di­ens, go!”

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