I started playing hockey in 2003 on a non-competitive, just-for-fun team in Canmore. The Recreational Hockey team, or ‘Rec’ as we called it, was made up of kids who just wanted to hold a stick and skate.
Our season consisted of two ‘shinny’ ice sessions a week. One was in Banff at 4:30 PM. For those practices, Dad — or Coach Dan because he also volunteered as the coach — would leave work early and pick me up after school. While it was my first year of hockey, it was also his first time being back on the ice in decades.
I remember there was a heavy snowstorm before a Banff practice once. Never wanting to miss an ice-time, Dad and I decided to make the drive to Banff anyways. We were the only ones who showed up. Dad and I ended up using the whole session, just shooting and passing a puck between the two of us. It was worth the risk.
The other ice time was in Canmore at 6:30 AM — a shorter drive, but tougher to get to. Dad had to wake me up around 6 AM. I’d be tired at first, but would be excited to get to the rink by the time I started getting dressed. The fact that I was putting on hockey equipment, instead of clothes, helped a lot.
Dad and I would then hop in the truck (me in full gear) and drive through the dark winter morning to the arena. There was never any traffic. When we got to the arena, the lights in the rink would be off and sometimes, there’d be some steam rising from the ice. It was always dead silent.
Although I spent most of my minor hockey career playing competitive hockey, those first few years playing ‘Rec’ sparked my life-long love of the game. The memories of it were always a reminder of why I put on a pair of skates in the first place. But the funny thing was that after my competitive hockey career finished, I returned to where I started.
Dad used to joke that all hockey players eventually end up in the same league. He was right. After being away from the game for awhile, playing recreational intramural hockey in university has been like falling in love all over again (and getting back into shape). The only ice-times are once every two weeks. I try to make every one. They even take place at strange hours too, like 11 PM games on school nights.
On one occasion last season, I was doing school work at home and lost track of time. After looking at the clock, I realized I had a game…which had already started…ten minutes ago. Without hesitating, I ran over to my hockey bag and began putting all my equipment on. The cab driver thought it was pretty absurd when I stepped in the car wearing full hockey gear, but he got me to the rink in time for the second period anyways.
When you truly love something, you’ll do anything to have it. Canadians will brave snowstorms, head out at bizarre hours, and go great distances, just to have a taste of that love in some way, shape, or form. Because there’s nothing like the feeling of stepping on a rink with a stick in your hands and hearing that crisp crunch of metal on ice.