What a cruel twist of fate that my first winter in six years without a girlfriend or wife must also be spent without hockey. For several weeks now, I've been feeding you lines and keeping my face straight, my upper lip stiff and my chin up. But it finally hit home this week: I miss hockey. I really, really do. I think it's because we're reaching the moment of truth. Until now, there'd been a glimmer of hope (or maybe it was just denial). But this week, after yet another last-ditch effort to save the season, the possibility that there might actually be no hockey this winter has finally hit home.
For some, like Archie Bennitz, it's too late. That old man spent his final winter deprived of his favourite game, his favourite Saturday-night pastime. So I guess I shouldn't feel too badly. But still, it's been a long, slow descent.
In September, I sought solace in the World Cup, letting it wash over me like a Zamboni flood.
In September, I sought solace in the World Cup, letting it wash over me like a Zamboni flood. There was a wobble, a moment of weakness, in October when the season didn't start. In November, with no family hockey-pool to talk about, my dad and I sat silently on opposite ends of a long-distance phone call. In December, there were negotiations, and a renewed sense of hope as our junior men's team won the world championship. Canada became the reigning hockey nation, simultaneously holding the junior title, the World Cup, and gold medals in both the men's and women's Olympic and world championships. But there was no joy in Iceville.
What to do? After I reviewed Matt Robinson's chapbook of hockey poems back in November, a reader requested some poetry of my own. So here's a little something to help cry away the winter:
Lament for Nik Antropov
I want you like classic rock at a hockey game:
corners rounded but firm, resonating under
the crested chests of over-age juniors shrink-wrapped
in jewel-cased arenas, their faces French-horn-solo-smooth;
change playing records in my pocket, balancing
a penny on the head of a needle, or three quarters
for a paper and the warm feeling I get reading
training-camp reports, a little too concerned
for who will play right wing on the Leafs' fourth line.
Liner notes on the inside sleeve sing falsetto; the album cover
features a Kazakh teen wearing the Blue and White,
while Neil Young, unshakeable in adult contemporary,
fills between-song vinyl cuts with zamboni harmonics.
Meanwhile, the good folks over at PunGents refuse to give into scent-iment. I don't want to be one of those effusive sportswriters, you know, the kind who works in the praise box, but these punny fellows can really brighten your day. They've got quite the com-pun-dium of hockey jokes, a few of which I'll pass on to you here. But be warned, these stick-handlers are not for the feint of heart:
Which Habs great once worked as a janitor? Broom-Broom Geoffrion.
Which trophy has the most glitz? The Lady Bling.
Which Oilers great had a soft spot for Indian food? Jari Curry.
In later years was the Great One in decline? Yes, he was on the Wayne.
Montreal's baseball team relocated to Tampa after being bought by the Exposito brothers.
Why was a certain Leafs right winger sued by the Louisiana government? Because he was Owen N'awlins.
Which front-office type is the most promiscuous? The general ménageur.
And for those who've taken up a new "hobby" to fill those long Saturday nights that were once occupied by the NHL:
Where do players hide their marijuana? Between the stash marks.
Wouldn't they get two minutes for tripping? Not if they spliff the defence.
Yes, but would they be stoned by the goalie? No, they'd smoke it right between the pipes!
So that's where we stand this winter: alone, hockeyless and at the mercy of the English language. Anyway, I could go on and on about Salming, but I don't want to Borje. I wouldn't want to Bet, man, but I really hope the negotiations are Good enough to save the season. Otherwise, it could be a long winter.
John Lofranco is a Montreal-based writer, teacher and distance runner. The Masochist appears every second Wednesday