Did the kid reeeeally want his monster mother to stick around and watch the action at the Play On! street hockey tournament in Ottawa a few days ago?
I did get the look. The one that says “Easy, tiger” and “Please go away.”
He took a shot at diplomacy.
“It’s okay, mom. You don’t have to bother.”
“But I love road hockey,” I said, trying to sound harmless.
(No denying facts. I am an old stick at hockey sans skates, dating back to a prehistoric era when I played forward on The Mashers and opponents had horns and tails.
I can swing both ways too, connecting with ankles, shins.. occasionally the ball.)
So the kid let me stay.
He saw the obvious advantages (the car, the wallet).
I got to see the action.
And it was incredible.
There were 417 teams (how cool is that?), plus loads of volunteers and officials at Scotiabank Place on Palladium Drive. Spitting distance from where the mighty Ottawa Senators rule the ice, road warriors ruled the pavement.
We were in Alfredsson-Spezza-Neil territory and, undoubtedly, more than a few local spectators paused for a minute and prayed to Don that Alfie will be back on the ice next year.
As for the here-and-now hockey, it was a big slice of Canadiana with a side of Gatorade and sweat. Little Tidbits with Velcro runners raced up and down a “rink” squealing with glee. Old geezers (in their 30s or 40s at least) with barley guts and tattoos sat on back fenders taping sticks and rehashing a just-finished game.
Intermittently, rain pounded down – offering a Mother-Nature sent, June variation of pond hockey in the snow.
There were grannies and strollers and wee dogs on leashes, teen girls batting their eyelashes and packs of boys, all bravado and gangling appendages. Female players were, surely, every bit as gritty as their male counterparts. After one feisty contest, the sistas from rival teams took the game verbal, trading shots as they walked away.
Hockey does that to a person.
Even on a Sunday afternoon, mid-downpour, in a suburban parking lot, it heats the blood.
(When the sun came out, there were clouds of testosterone rising from the pavement and I’m sure I saw Lord Stanley himself in the ditch by the trees, digging down to fetch pink road-hockey balls from the weeds.)
O Canada was playing in my head.
But as the day wore on I recognized another song, one from childhood, from the days when a Friday night hockey match was the game in my hometown.
In the jungle
The mighty jungle
The lion sleeps tonight
In the jungle
The quiet jungle
The lion sleeps tonight
Then I roared.
One minute I was on the sidelines minding my well-behaved hockey-mother business. The next minute I… wasn’t.
It was after a fractious game versus manly lads. In the first game of the tournament, these same manlies had handily beat our guys by about double the score. So they were probably expecting an easy win.
Instead they got a battle. It was chippy.
Two of them had arms with muscles as big as the fish men catch on fishing trips. That big.
But our team had a giant.
And matching jerseys. And a seven-year-old mascot named Maddie.
So when their yappy player in the tank top chirped the cheering section, we didn’t flinch. (Poor guy’s outfit didn’t match.)
And when he hollered at me to toss him the ball – after it flew over the fence – and I did and he fired it at the net, mid-air, scoring four seconds later, I was sto. ic.
The very model of decorum.
Then the game was over and the ref walked by me and I asked him the score and he said 7-6 for our team and, silly me, I thought that meant our guys won the game.
Time to get a beavertail.
Or not – because the ref was quickly surrounded by players from the other team, manly lads, and I could hear it: the game was being lost – score reversed – in an onslaught of words.
Then (male) bystanders joined the free-for-all, arguing with the official.
Maternal Let’s-Get-Ready-To-Rumble hormones snapped, crackled and popped.
I, of course, ignored them.
I paused judiciously.
It did appear the situation called for a (female) voice of reason.
(Cue the trumpets…) I entered the fray.
At the edge of a growing crowd, I addressed an official with glossy dark hair and a black golf shirt. She looked me in the eyeballs and said – into her Walkie-Talkie – “Security. We Need Security.”
I skulked wandered away, discreetly dusting my halo.
A few minutes later, Mother Nature had her say, cracking the clouds open and dumping buckets of water on people’s heads.
By then I was under a tent and under the impression the game, in fact, had been won – 7-6.
Only one thing didn’t make sense: there was no sign of the kid or his teammates. They were still back at the scene of the cr game. I headed that way, rounding a corner, and there they were – in vocal mode – surrounding a man in a ball cap. (His hair may have been glossy.) And he may have had a whistle and a clipboard. He definitely had decided the game had not been won.
Imagine you’re the ref at LA’s Staples Centre, third period, game 6, surrounded by angry Devils – Gionta, Carter, Elias, Kovalchuk, Parise, Volchenkov.
That was Scott Hill, founder and national manager of Hockey Night in Canada’s Play On! official street hockey tournament.
Enveloped – hockey-bag style – by stink, angst and a Febreeze spray of outrage, he was calm. No frothing at the mouth. (I checked, okay?)
He was courteous.
It was disconcerting.
He called the game a tie, based on a good deal of impartial evidence, and directed the ensuing shoot-out.
An hour or so later, our day ended following a one-goal loss to some polite boys in orange tank tops. It was a clean, well played game. When the ball flew over the fence and was retrieved, the lad from the other team put it on the pavement before he took a shot.
While Scott Hill had gone on to other duties, the referee for this game, Adam, never took his eyes off the ball or the play.
There were also linesmen involved. Interestingly enough, the two friendly young fellas were on the parents’ side of the fence – standing right beside me.
For details about Play On!, check www.playon.ca. (Be sure to bookmark it and remember to sign up for next year, because it’s a blast.)