Anne Notations

Monday, March 14, 2005

Rink rat

Here's how I fell in love with hockey:
In late 1969, the first semester of my freshman year, Brown hosted Cornell - a team that had a perfect season and went on to win the NCAA championship. Huge rivalry. My boyfriend Jeff brought me to the game at Meehan Auditorium. An hour before the opening face-off, the place was SRO. We stood on a stairway high up near the press box. The band blared and the crowd roared without ceasing for the next several hours. The game was pure adrenaline, a thriller that ended in a tie. The heartstopping sudden-death OT ended when Cornell scored to win, 5-4.

We lost, and I was lost. I'd had an epiphany. The game of ice hockey was the passion I'd sought without knowing it. I was in love with the beauty of the skating, the thrill of a supersonic slapshot or a perfect wrister, the weaving and deking of the speedy forwards, the cold-damp smell of the rink and the growl of the Zamboni.

Inspired by my figure-skater roommate Janet, I had already been skating daily at the rink, graduating from shuffling around on my ankles while holding onto the boards, to gaining some control and speed as I circled to the piped-in music. Now, I had a goal, no pun intended: I wanted to play hockey. And I was (O, serendipity!) in the right place. Brown had the first women's college hockey team in the U.S. It was a club, unfunded except for the assignment of a phys. ed teacher to advise us and some random ice times for practice. But it was exactly what I wanted. I spent the rest of the year skating on my cheap white figure skates until I was ready for the next step - real hockey skates. I bought them at Bennett Sports in Cranston: black-and-brown CCM Junior Tacks, my pride and joy.

I played hockey my sophomore and junior years and half of my senior year, centering the second line. During practice I loved the echoey sounds of pucks whamming into the boards, newly sharpened skates scraping on freshly made ice, the ready-set-go bzzzzzt of the buzzer when we scrimmaged. I loved skating out to take a face-off and, if I was lucky, sprinting down open ice toward the goal, my hair streaming out the back of my helmet. On the ice I could fly, I could push people around, I could lift the puck with a wrist-flick of my Koho stick. Speed, power ... pure joy.

We had only one opponent within driving distance, a motley club team in Cranston. To finance our annual January trip to a tournament in Montreal, we sold candy bars at the men's games, then hired a bus and paid our own way at a low-rent motel, four to a room. In our jeans and shin pads and skimpy boys' jerseys, we took the ice against fully equipped Canadian women's teams from McGill and other schools ... and got the crap kicked out of us. But it was real hockey, real games with referees and scoreboards, and we lived for it.

More than 30 years have gone by, and I have bad hips now and shaky knees. These days I go to Brown games with Kevin. We walk into the rink, where the band is playing and the Zamboni whooshing around the ice, and once again I am at home. Being a hockey fan is like belonging to the Church: you can walk into any rink or any Mass, anywhere in the world, and instantly be part of a community, know its rituals and its essence and sacraments.

Peek into the crystal ball: It's the year 2030, and I'm white-haired, arthritis-ridden. One of my adult children is pushing me into Meehan Auditorium in a wheelchair, right up to the railing above the goal where I can see everything. I breathe the icy air, watch the helmeted bodies swirling on the ice below me, open my mouth and CHEER for Brown ... for hockey ... for life lived on a finely sharpened skate's edge.

Anne, winter 1971, Brown University; Kevin, fall 2004, NEH Predators


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