I love winter! I live in a region of Canada (Alberta) that has four distinct seasons, the longest of which is obviously winter. While many people would think me insane, I just love this season. I guess it all comes from growing up in Montreal where, for me, winter was all about hockey and playing outdoors. I would play hockey anywhere and anytime. It was a passion for me. When I wasn’t playing on my East End Boy’s Club team, I’d play on snow packed streets, sidewalks, backyard rinks, frozen ponds or at the local park outdoor rink.
I would get up early on Saturday mornings and dress for a day at the public outdoor rink at Parc St. Victor. I would head off with skates, stick, hockey gloves, the required tuque and spend the entire day at the rink playing hockey with 30 or 40 other kids. Quite often there was a parish priest on the ice as well, playing hockey with the kids while still wearing his cassock. I recall the priests were quite good at the game and of course no one would ever dare check them!
Beside the rink there was a small hut that was used for changing in and out of your skates as well as warming up when you had to. The inside of the hut, heated by an oil stove, was always toasty and smelled of old wood. The floors were all carved up by the many years of skate blades crossing over them. There were benches inside to sit on and you would store your boots under them while out playing. There were no lockers with padlocks, it was based on trust.
On those Saturdays, after a day of being at the rink, I’d head home and watch my favourite team, the Montreal Canadiens, playing one of the other original six NHL teams on CBC’ TV’s Hockey Night in Canada. I would watch the game with my Dad who would pick for any team other than Montreal.
I idolized goaltenders like Jacques Plante, Charlie Hodge, and Gump Worsley. I never missed the Saturday evening broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada which in Montreal had Danny Gallivan as the play by-play announcer. Naturally I much preferred him over Foster Hewitt who called the play in Toronto. One thing Gallivan had in his favour was that he could properly pronounce the names of all the French Canadian players whereas Hewitt would butcher them. Hewitt was especially bad at pronouncing Canadiens’ player Yvon Cournoyer’s name, he’d always say ‘corn-o-yer’. It should be pronounced ‘coor nwah yay’.
Each Saturday, included in the Montreal Star newspaper was an insert called the Star Weekly. During the winter months the Star Weekly usually included a write up on an NHL player like Henri Richard, Gordie Howe, Johnny Bower or Andy Bathgate along with a full page photo of them in their team uniform. They were all keepers to me. I’d collect the photos in put them in my scrapbook. I still have my scrapbook as well as a publicity photo handout of Henri Richard that he signed.
A real highlight was when I was about 12 years old and playing organized hockey at the East End Boys and Girls Club. To celebrate the opening of the new EEBGC’s indoor arena, the Montreal Canadiens came and played an inter squad game. There I was sitting by the boards during the game with my heros skating by just a few feet away.
I sure was a lucky kid to have had so much fun in winter…mostly because of hockey!