As a young boy a trip to the rink in the early 60’s only meant one of four things.
1. I was playing.
2. I was going to watch my dad play.
3. We were going to watch a friend of my dad’s son play.
But, the ultimate reason would be to see the Leafs or Marlboros play at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Sunday mornings watching my dad play at Leaside Arena holds memorable moments. Our routine consisted of an early morning practice for me, home for a quick change and off to watch my dad play.
I’d carry my dad’s stick from the car to the top of the steps leading to the dressing rooms below. Without a word spoken, there was an exchange of .25-cents that went towards a drink, Fudgsicle and sponge toffee.
No sooner would that 25-cent piece hit the bottom of my pocket and I was off.
A good “rink rat,” has all the angles mapped out before he starts. I was especially skilled at Leaside Arena. However, there was plenty of competition.
First, scour the rink for stray pucks and broken discarded sticks. Failing that, the timing would have to be just right to hit one of dressing rooms as the last player was leaving. The race was not only to beat the other “rats” but also the attendant about to clean the room. Valuable treasures included used tape still sticky enough to form a ball and broken sticks.
Second, the skilled “rink rat” would also be able to sneak into the Zamboni room while the attendant was flooding the ice or cleaning one of the rooms. This could harvest a good find of discarded sticks or even a puck, but that would require a quick in and out as the attendant could still possibly catch the “rat.” The window was tight.
The whole process would take a skilled “rink rat “ 10 to 15 minutes. Then it was game time.
The other “rink rats” would know to convene at the given spot. Whoever found the first stick, shot first. The other “rat” used gloves or garbage cans, as goalposts and his winter jacket became his goal stick. If more than one stick was found, teams immediately formed. “Rink rats” had a code and no words were ever needed.
Leaside had a great spot under the portrait of the Queen for pickup
games. This also gave a good sight line to the Zamboni room at the far end to spot the attendant coming to break up the game.
My son at the same age played for the Markham Waxers. If he and his sister came to watch me play beer league hockey, they had a routine.
1. We’d walk in the rink.
2. I’d hand them some money and they’d head up stairs to the glassed in restaurant. 3. They’d buy a snack of pizza, burger, hotdog or fries and play video games with rest of the money.
Upon completion of our pick up game, broken up by the rink attendant my fellow “rats” and I would then bring out the hockey cards. A game of flips or knockdowns would follow.
We’d also find time for some trades. The winner with a mitt full of cards would lead the way. I’d try and get all Leafs back for any other cards.
I’d like to have some of those trades back today.
Explaining the “rink rat” rituals to my children brought looks of bewilderment and amazement.
“Dad why didn’t you just take your own stick and ball or puck to the rink?”
“That’s not the idea you guys”.
With the cost of sticks today there isn’t many discarded. I get that. But still! Look in a kid’s hockey bag today. You will find anything from mini sticks, pucks, tennis balls, rubber pucks, baseball gloves, a mini soccer ball, football, maybe all the above.
“Don’t you guys even trade hockey cards?”
“Of course we do dad, look.”
And out will come a set of cards in a plastic container or even a binder. The good cards maybe placed in individual plastic holders. And when asked how they value cards or would you even know the difference between a Sidney Crosby and a Dave Keon rookie card? In a flash out comes a card-pricing guide or their smartphone to search the price.
Today’s “rink rat” is defined as anyone who spends a lot of time at the rink. That could be four or more times a week. Todays “rat” knows who has the best of snacks, best viewing area and quickest way to that particular rink.
In my time the “rat” could tell you every nook and cranny of any rink he’s ever been in. He could also tell you whom the laziest of attendants or slowest were, giving the best chance at some good finds. He could also tell you the best place to have a game or just take shots.
Todays “rink rat”? Well I can tell you this; the rink in Schomberg Ontario still makes the best-toasted western I’ve ever had at a rink.