When I grew up, there were two types of kids: those who played street hockey after school and the kids who sat alone at the lunch table.
When bus doors opened, they unearthed a sea of unhinged athletic desire into the driveway of whoever had “home ice” that day. Our children – our future – delayed homework, community service and trumpet practice. There were more gargantuan matters at hand … err … glove.
Almost 20 kids within a half-mile radius, ages 5 to 13, had embarked on an eight month quest. We had to complete the 1992-1993 NHL Season, game for game, mirroring our beloved Buffalo Sabres – playoffs and all.
The first puck dropped when the first leaf fell, and the final horn wouldn’t blow until our first trip to the beach. Sunburns and body checks make for a ferocious blast of pain.
The driveway was where legends were made. First-graders who couldn’t stand on skates were gracefully sashaying in Reeboks and Sorrels. Asthmatics who couldn’t breathe in the cold were blasting their buddies (and, consequently, their own faces) into snow banks.
You didn’t like someone’s attitude? You think you can take him? Go ahead. Drop the gloves. Get it on!
There were no penalty boxes, no game misconducts and no power plays. It’s just you and the other kid, with only your pride and your precious baby face on the line.
Last winter, I was driving though a suburban neighborhood at dusk, and I had to stop my car. A group of young kids in front of me dropped their sticks and quickly moved the nets out of the street. They braved the cold, and the dark, to get that one last period in. It was the first time since I last laced them up I had seen kids with sticks and pucks in the streets.
I wonder if they’re endlessly playing out the season, and I hope they’re still alive for the playoffs.
I hope they’re playing when its 10 degrees below and when its 85 degrees.
I hope they drop their gloves and duke it out like men, just because they want to and just because they can.
I drive past the portal that lets me peer into my youth and wave to the bundled-up bullies. As I look in my rearview, I see the nets set up again – same as always.
-Column originally appeared 12.11.2007 on The Love of Sports