The Play Of Hockey

An oldtimers hockey dressing room is a smell, a nostalgia, a nickname, a tavern, a crypt, a secret, a reminder, a forgotten place, a glory, a bright light, a longing.

Northern arena light 
Oldtimers dressing room
I laced them up Thursday night in Legal with some friends from the old days. Kobes, JM, Klipper, Hogey, 630 Chad, Briganti-Nugent-Hopkins, Joshy, Hoop, Mitchy, Brian The Switcher. Hogey's buddy "Blame It On" Theo joined us, and so did Mikey, who, at 18, was the youngest oldtimer, and is too young to remember Blame It On Rio. Like any oldtimer dressing room, and adjusted for local customs, it was a bunch of guys at different income levels, with different tolerance for rye and lime Pepsi, at different stages of moral and bodily decay.

And it's a pharmacy, too. Mikey was struck by the time taken before puck drop not just in tying skates, coaxing equipment on and taping sticks, but in applying Voltaren, wrapping ankles and popping ibuprofen. Entire equipment bags smell like that mixture of sweaty, mouldy gear and A535 muscle rub. Every temple needs its sacred scents.

I didn't completely know it at the time, but it was the place I wanted our sons to be able to feel their way into, and feel at home in, when we signed them up for minor hockey (and signed over a small fortune in money and time) all those years ago. There was an imbalance in what was communicated in the rinks of minor hockey. The dominant mode was the imparting of, the transmitting of skills, systems, information from experts to novices. There is a lot of money to be made down a lot of long roads if those skills are developed.

Future oldtimers
But what didn't get as much care, what wasn't worth two points at the end of the game, was hockey as a ritual, hockey as a way of being together, a dramatic way of sharing a way to win and lose. Crazy coaches and hyped parents had a way of getting in the way of growing that sense.

All of that is behind me when I take my spot on the bench in a real hockey oldtimers dressing room. It begins to dawn on me that it's a dressing room not just because it's where I attach and tie, take off and untie the pads and skates. It's also a dressing room also because it's where cuts and bruises are dressed.

But it's really a dressing room because the players there are assuming the ongoing roles in an ongoing text that is the story of where we come from, who we are, and how we are together in play.
We get old, but the game and those lessons shouldn't.

Maybe the aroma of an oldtimers dressing room is what preservation of those principles smells like.

What's old is new again


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