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From the Valley column


Last week’s column dealt with my days of playing hockey as a youth in Ogdensburg, NY. It was there in the backyard of our house on Patterson Street that neighborhood friends, my brother, Tim, and I built our first ice-rink. It was the late 1950’s.

The genesis of the project came from Larry Leland and Ricky Roach. Two kids, our age, who lived in the neighborhood. They had built a small rink at one of their houses and were looking to expand. They approached my brother and me with the hopes of joining forces. Our yard was bigger and it looked like a win-win situation for both parties.

Tim and I ran the plan by our other friends – and work force: Calkie, Pinky, Reggie, Gordie, the Seymours, and the Shermans. They were in! A lifetime of memories was set in motion.

Learning how to build the rink was an ongoing process. It required a lot of lumber (for the wooden-structure of the frame). Thus, the first order of business was to secure that wood. And so, we set out scavenging the city for planks, boards and timber wherever and whenever we could.

We kept our eyes and ears open looking for tips as to where any buildings were being razed. I remember, one fall day, when a group of us trudged about 10 blocks with a caravan of red wagons in tow, to where a demolition/construction operation was taking place.

Once there, we were allowed to paw through the debris and, eventually, wheeled home about 8-10 discarded interior-doors. They were perfect for the sidewalls - and the price was right. Let’s just say our group of wood-scrounging junior engineers won the ‘door-prize’.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then determination is the father of resourcefulness.

Each year, we’d gather and collect more materials and the rink would improve and be upgraded. My dad volunteered to put a couple of floodlights along the length of the garage which ran parallel to the rink. Ta-da! Nighttime hockey. We were in business.

After several years of using magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Life as shin pads (secured by shoelaces), we got word that there was a store in Canada – just across the river - with hockey gear. Imagine that: a place in Canada that sold hockey gear. Go figure! There was no such store on our side of the border.

My father loaded up our black and white Pontiac station-wagon with as many kids as he could and off we went. We came back with shin pads and uniforms. The jerseys had the Montreal Canadiens logo on them. (There were only 6 teams in the NHL at the time.) Despite the fact that we couldn’t talk dad into buying a Zamboni ice-machine, we were on cloud nine.

There are so many stories but such little space. As a final side note: The reason my wife and I settled in Western NY is because of my childhood/hockey-playing friend, Calkie. (He and I are kneeling in the photo. He is on the right.)

Calkie was attending Brockport State in the late ‘60’s and I decided to transfer there and join him. He was the only one I knew at the school. When it came September, I had to get to the college ahead of him for an orientation process. Calkie never made it back to Brockport. He died that fall from a cancerous brain tumor.

He will forever be missed.

“I want you to know, though the years may go, the ties of the past hold true. And deep in my heart is a place apart … I’ve kept for you, just you.”

That’s the way it looks from the Valley.

The above quote was scribbled on a note that a friend, Mike Seymour, handed to Tom the day of Calkie’s funeral. Tom carries it with him to this very day.

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