What could be more Canadian than a game of road hockey?
Growing up in the 60’s it seemed a prerequisite to becoming a kid, included playing road hockey. Nothing in the universe of a 10 year old could top a crisp fall or winter day, a thin layer of ice or packed snow covering the street and 6 – 12 friends on hand. These of course are the ultimate conditions for the perfect road hockey game. Otherwise a clear, rain free day did the trick. Throw in a couple of homemade nets; life just got a little better.
Games on our street usually started in front of my house. I would patiently be out front shooting balls or pucks at my net, waiting for the others to arrive. Soon I would be joined by the usual array of players from our street. A visiting cousin, friend or kid from another street joined our games quite frequently.
Our games had no timeline. We’d play until someone got called home. Most of the time, I was last to stop playing. The opening faceoff determined the regiment of the game. If we had an opening faceoff then the ritual following would be a faceoff after every goal. If not? Then the team scored on, got possession of the ball.
The position of the nets was critical. If it were a street vs. street game, the nets would be placed in the middle of the road. Cars moving up and down the street delayed the game while the nets were moved. The other alternative had the nets placed against the curbs on opposite sides of the street. This allowed the cheap bank in goal off the curb. This format was allowed in games involving only a couple players aside. When we didn’t have to move the nets, it allowed us the chance to play a game of pass the ball under the moving car. The successful passer got a penalty shot. If the other player were able to return the pass under the car he would get two penalty shots. The risk was the ball would hit the car and be dragged or bounced halfway down the street. The unfortunate loser would have to retrieve the ball.
Goalie equipment was always a challenge. Foam from the inside of a couch cushion was the preferred material for goalie pads. Cut the cushion in half; poke two holes in the center, string old skate lace through the holes and tie around each leg. The creative pad designer would cut the bottom of the foam to fit around the winter boot. This design of pads could last a few days depending on weather or road conditions. If icy, the pads wouldn’t catch on the pavement and tear. If they did, it was off to Murray Upholstery to beg for more foam.
A baseball and a hockey glove wrapped in foam to form a blocker, made up the goalie gloves. We spent more time repairing than playing sometimes.
Failing all the above, a coat held like a matador fending off a raging bull but in this case a 10 year olds slap shot, seemed to do the trick. The goalie using a coat in a schoolyard foot hockey game usually was the star player.
Homemade nets with canvas backstop would be full of holes. Someone lucky enough to have a real net with mesh seemed to always be fixing holes as well. I thought it was worth the aggravation to see the ball or puck snap back after entering the net. Just like on TV. I seemed to spend a lot of time repairing holes in the net.
No sweaters were ever worn to separate the teams. They weren’t necessary, you knew who was on your team. Sticks came in all shapes and sizes. Blades could be regulation size right down to the toothpick version. It didn’t matter, as long as a player could take a pass, stickhandle and shoot, it did the trick. Broken sticks posed no problem. They could be taped, glued or nailed back together.
The ball or puck used in our games varied. The worn down tennis ball was tough to beat. The new ones performed well on dry streets. If the streets had snow or ice, the ball would soak up water and become too heavy. Goalies with no equipment didn’t like this. The sponge puck was great on the icy schoolyard at St. Kevin’s or shooting one on one on the road, but otherwise not good for games, because it bounced too much. The red, white and blue ball worked ok until it to soaked up too much water. Slicing off the ends didn’t help, as they seemed to bounce more than the sponge pucks. Indian rubber balls were way to hard and besides bounced forever if you missed the net.
On energetic days, one of us would be Foster Hewitt and call the play by play. The guy whose house was closest to the game was considered home team. This gave him first choice of NHL teams. Its why I was always a Maple Leaf and usually Dave Keon.
Ps. there was no code for home call, I just told all the guys on the street there was so I could be Keon.