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From The Valley column

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I was watching an outdoor hockey game on TV the other day - it was being played on Soldier Field in Chicago. The Blackhawks were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was an afternoon affair and the wind chill was hovering close to “Holy crap, this is absolutely ridiculous!.” Not to mention it was snowing.

Ahhh, the memories! That’s the type of hockey I grew up with in Ogdensburg. More precisely, that’s the way we played it. (The ‘Burg is in northern New York on the mighty St. Lawrence River/Canadian border.)

What caught my eye, while watching the game, was the way the puck traveled on the the rink after the snow had settled. It plowed through the accumulation, revealing its path like a jet-stream on ice. It would then come to an abrupt halt, defying the expected law of physics and motion. That was the same way it happened in our backyard-rink on Patterson Street. (Incidentally, “Patterson” is now spelled with only one “T” on the street signs for reasons only God knows.)

In retrospect (which, obviously, can be attained only through the passage of time – of which, there has been more than I care to admit), our group of regular ice warriors were an eclectic bunch. That coalition included: Calkie (Robbie Calcaterra), Pinky (Jim Pinkerton), Reggie (Baker), Gordie (Douglas), the Seymours (Paul, Joe and Mike) and the Sherman brothers (Bill and Dick). All were neighborhood friends who - along with my brother, Tim, and I - formed a nucleus of diehard-kids determined to go out and play hockey ... regardless of the weather. The common denominator was having fun.

The time was the latter part of the ‘50’s to mid ‘60’s. And while we were on the rink - that WE made - we got to make our own rules. We made them flexible enough to enjoy ourselves. After all, wasn’t that the goal?

There were no grownups sternly correcting us for not following the canon of hockey regulations or because we had neglected a basic concept of what (they thought) we “should” be doing. We were just out there having the times of our lives. Kids being kids without the stress of being told what and how to play. That’s what “play” is all about.

And quite noticeably, no one left the rink in tears. Think about that and why that’s different from today. I’m just saying....

Back then, there were no “Dick’s Sporting Goods” stores or “Hockey World” places to buy equipment. All we had - or for that matter, needed - were our skates, sticks and plenty of pucks.

On our rink, pucks had the lifespan of about 15 to 20 minutes before they vanished over the three-foot high boards into the oblivion of a northern NY snowbank. (The definition of ‘futility’ in our neck of the woods was: looking for a hockey puck that had ‘left the building’.) It was a no-brainer that you’d not see it again until spring-time.

And that March thaw had a way of bringing stubborn – yet, majestic – piles of ice to its knees - forcing them to surrender, literally, 50 (or more) pucks a year. We’d pick the valuable bounty up and stash them away until we started it all over again in about 7 or 8 months.

It was like having … get ready for this … money in the snowbank.

Join me here next week for the continuation of this chilling tale of hockey – as I saw it. For now, I’ll leave you with an adage from one-time Canadian sportscaster (of that by-gone time), Max Jackson. Max would preach at the end of each broadcast:

“If you don’t play a sport … then be one.”

And that’s the way it looks from the Valley.

Tom Valley and his wife, Kathie, are both from Ogdensburg but now live in Medina. Tom has been skating on thin ice his whole life. Contact him at: Tvalley@rochester.rr.com

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