I’m sure you’ve heard of the Original Six, the original six for me means something slightly different.
In the NHL the Original Six is defined by the Bruins, Black Hawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers and Maple Leafs. To me, the original six is defined by my sister, two brothers, uncle, my neighbor across the street and the little mill pond which freezes in the winter and creates the backdrop for childhood ambitions. The original game; pond hockey.
In January, I always get to thinking about the original game of hockey; before all the fan fare, salaries, professional players and pure politics of the greatest sport on Earth. I’m talking about the original untouched beauty of a sport that’s played year round, but at its best in the cold winter months of New England, Canada and the northern most parts of the United States. Pond hockey, outdoor hockey; the kind of hockey where all you need is a pair of skates, a stick and whatever kind of sweatshirt you can pull on first and fastest to get you out on that sheet of ice.
Pond hockey for me was played on many surfaces throughout my childhood. While the mill pond was always preferable, occasionally it just wasn’t feasible. For awhile it was a flooded parking lot near my elementary school because that was deemed the safest surface. Then I got a little rebellious and realized that as long as the ice is sort of frozen my chances of catching hypothermia and drowning in a pond that I could stand in are pretty minimal.
Hockey was played on a mill pond by my house when I was little and even now, years later it’s still the activity of choice no matter what the weather. The little mill pond seems microscopic for the full fledged games that we now choose to play; but somehow we manage. The original 5-on-5 when I was five has been reduced to a 3-on-3. No matter what the setup; the backdrop is just as beautiful and just as fun as the first time I strapped on my skates and attempted to navigate my way with a shovel to clear the ice.
Pond hockey has shaped many a player. Pro or amateur it’s a quick slap to reality when you hit that first divot of the ice and nose dive right into the trash can that serves as a goal. Hockey played under these conditions are not only the most fun; but they certainly form a different confidence in navigating the puck, finding comfort in your skates and dominating your opponent. Families verses families, neighbor verses neighbor, sibling verses sibling; the perfect equation for blood (lots of it), sweat (check that off the list) and tears (I have brothers, I’m a girl, need I say more?)
The point I’m trying to make is that I can see and feel the excitement when the Winter Classic takes place or when you see the kids on the local pond. You see full grown men turn into little boys and little boys and girls become pros in front of your eyes. It might be because they are right back to playing in the element and situations that forged a career so long ago. Or they are honing talents to forge ahead with dreams of the majors.
Put simply, the Winter Classic is just a game of pond hockey. The objective is the same, the fun is still there and instead of siblings as opponents it’s the Sidney Crosby’s, Alex Ovechkin’s and Zdeno Chara’s of the world. But watching the classic reminds me that they are all just little boys who like to have fun playing a sport that they love.
If you’ve never tried pond hockey, it’s an escape from the confinements of an ice rink. A chance to flee reality and an instant time warp back to childhood; or a slap shot towards a dream. What better way to beat the winter blues than grabbing a pair of skates, your stick and venturing out into the elements. I’ll see you on the ice.