Retro Rangers: Road Apple Season

by | Jan 18, 2017

Many of us have played hockey in one form or another, be it on the ice, the street or on the floor of a recreation center. And very often we didn’t have access to or could afford regulation equipment. So since necessity is the mother of invention we fashioned home-made goalie pads out of pillows and old rugs and built goals from garbage cans, PVC piping or two-by-fours and chicken wire. For pucks, we used whatever we had on hand; an old tennis ball, a rounded block of wood or a taped up whiffle ball.

But it’s doubtful that any of us had to go to the extremes that some of the old pros did while growing up during the Great Depression. If you read the biographies of many of the old-time NHL’ers you’ll come to appreciate how much they loved the game and that they too had to improvise. Their pick-up games were played on frozen streets, ponds and rivers in temperatures well below freezing. They wore hand-me-down skates that were far too big for them and protected their shins with old newspapers or magazines taped to their legs. And very often an appropriately shaped tree branch was used in place of a stick.

But what has always intrigued me about these tales was what they used for pucks. If they weren’t lucky enough to have an actual puck, they used blocks of wood or stone. But often depending on their location, they were forced to use “road apples”. Call them what you will, “road apples” or “horse chestnuts”, they were frozen horse droppings and they became a necessary part of many a hockey player’s early career.

Hall of Famer Emile “The Cat” Francis was one of those youngsters. The former NHL goaltender, coach and general manager grew up in North Battleford, Saskatchewan where the temperature was consistently below zero for much of the winter and he has fond memories of frozen streets, frozen horse turds and black eyes.

Emile Francis: “When we were kids it was during the Depression and the farmers would come in every Saturday to shop and they wouldn’t come in with cars or trucks, they would come in with a team of horses pulling their sleigh.

So it would be getting dark and we would follow them and of course the horses had a go to the bathroom. This was about half a block from where I lived. We’d go out and gather them up and hide them in a snowbank and the next day they’d be frozen solid. We did that for at least two or three years.

So this one Sunday the guys on our block were playing the guys from another block and we were having a hell of a game and one of those guys shot that frozen horse turd and hit me right between the eyes. Well when I woke up Monday morning I had the nicest set of black eyes I ever had.  It was like getting hit with a rock.

So I went to school on Monday morning, it was a Catholic school run by nuns. So I go in and they used to line us up in the basement before we went up to class and the principal spotted me right away. She came over and she said ‘what happened to you over the weekend?’ I said ‘I got hit.’ She said ‘oh you got in trouble again?’ and I said ‘oh no I got hit’ and she says ‘well what did you get hit with?’ Now I didn’t want to tell her that I got hit with a frozen horse turd so I just said I got hit.  I never did get a chance to say what I really wanted to say. But those were the best two black eyes I ever had I’ll tell you.

We played on the street, it was like ice. There was an open air rink about two blocks from where I lived. I would put my skates on and skate to the rink on the road because there was ice on the road and you could skate on it.

And of course every home had their own little rink in the backyard. Where I came from wasn’t the richest area of the town I’ll tell you that. Closer to the city was where all the doctors and dentists were. They all had nice rinks in the backyard and they had nice things. I’d arrange games for my little team up the other end of town and we never ran out of pucks. We’d get resupplied on the way over there. We’d follow a horse and take as much was we could carry. We had a lot of fun.”

Those were tough times, but so were the young men who would go to such great lengths to play the game they loved. Some even tough enough to make it to the NHL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

K’Andre Miller on the Verge of Stardom

K’Andre Miller on the Verge of Stardom

The New York Rangers have assembled a very talented, young roster, highlighted by a former Norris Trophy winner (Adam Fox), a defending Vezina Trophy winner (Igor Shesterkin), a recent first overall pick (Alexis Lafreniere) and a recent second overall draft pick (Kappo Kakko). But though all of those players are critical to the Blueshirts’ future, K’Andre Miller could turn out be the most important of all.

read more
'We've gotta do something with it:' Pens' veterans back and hungry for another Cup

Sidney Crosby was happy to see Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang return, hoping to make another run with the Penguins' dynastic core. [...]

Toronto out and Detroit in? Teams most likely to rise and fall in the playoff race

We identify the most vulnerable candidates in each division -- plus the non-playoff teams from last season that are ready to take their place. [...]

How NHL players would change the Stanley Cup playoffs

A move back to 1-8 conference seeding? Best-of-3 in early rounds? We checked in with more than a dozen stars for their opinions. [...]

NHL to debut virtual ads on arena rink boards

NHL to debut digitally enhanced dasherboards to all arenas this season, replacing traditional advertisements on arena rink boards with virtual ones and eventually allowing broadcasts to display in-game stats, special… [...]

Canadiens sign goalie Allen to 2-year extension

The Montreal Canadiens signed goaltender Jake Allen to a two-year, $7.7 million contract extension on Saturday. [...]

Ducks' Vaakanainen taken off ice on stretcher

Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim's preseason game against… [...]

Lightning, Magic donate to Hurricane Ian relief

The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts while the Orlando Magic are donating $1 million. [...]

Rasmus Sandin signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday. [...]

Flyers' Couturier dodges surgery as season nears

Despite not participating in any preseason games yet, Philadelphia veteran forward Sean Couturier will not need surgery on an upper-body injury, the Flyers said Wednesday, though he remains week-to-week. [...]

Leafs captain Tavares to miss beginning of season

John Tavares will be out at least three weeks with an oblique injury, Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said Tuesday. [...]

Ever wonder what it would be like if your everyday car was a ZAMBONI?!?!?

Wonder no longer…

Check out The Zambonis' latest hit, "Slow Whip"!