суббота, 22 декабря 2012 г.

Playing Shinny on Macamley Street

By Hank Mattimore

Growing up, if I hadn't had sports, I don't know where I'd be. God only knows what street corners I'd have been standing on and God only knows what I'd have been doing, but instead I played hockey and went to school and stayed out of trouble.
~Bobby Orr

We didn't have ice skates or an ice rink, but we kids were blessed by the gods of hockey with the perpetually snow covered streets of south Buffalo winters. Heck, we had taped up hockey sticks, a puck (sometimes a tin can), and goals marked with old sneakers. What else did we need? We played with heart and a passion known only to eleven-year-old boys crazy in love with the game of hockey.
It was the mid-forties. Our Buffalo Bisons hockey team, American League farm club of the legendary Montreal Canadiens NHL team, was burning up their league. Buffalo won the coveted Calder Cup several times in the forties.

We kids listened to every game on the radio (no TV yet) and would take turns sharing tear sheets from the sports pages of the Buffalo Courier-Express newspaper. We'd pore over the stats of each game at school. "Did Pargeter get the hat trick last night? Wow! That's twice this month already."

My best pals — Dave "Murph" Murphy and "Bones" Miller — along with Don, Bernie and myself were the hard-nosed ones. We played when Macamley Street was slick with ice or loaded with two feet of snow. We played in the sleet and the rain and right through some of Buffalo's biggest snow squalls. Bring it on. We were ready.

Our uniforms were jeans, winter coats and earmuffs. Playing in our overshoes, we didn't look much like hockey players but we played with the intensity of pros, right through the icy winds that blew off Lake Erie and the black and blue hurts on our shins. We checked our opponents into the snow banks that lined Macamley Street. The only local rule we observed, in deference to our complete lack of protective gear, was no lifting the puck.

The only time we stopped playing was when a car made its way down the street and we had to pause to let it go by. Otherwise, our games went on for hours or until the street lights went on. That was our signal to call the game and return to the mundane world of family life, homework and cleaning up for dinner.

Two or three times a season, our gang managed to get the money together to take the bus downtown to see the Bisons play at Memorial Auditorium. We lived for those days. The Aud, as we called it, was a first-class indoor sports arena with seating for about 12,000 fans. We could only afford the cheap seats so we sat way up in the higher regions of the auditorium, but we felt lucky just being part of the raucous crowd cheering on our beloved Bisons.

Just before the breaks between periods of the games, we would hustle down from the cheap seats to the lower floor where the teams had their locker rooms to catch our team coming off the ice. Just to see our heroes up close was a thrill. Sometimes, we'd get brave and yell out our encouragement: "Hey, Al way to go" or "Nice game, Pargeter." If we were rewarded by so much as a grunt from one of the players, we felt graced by the Almighty.

But nothing prepared us for the time one of the Buffalo players came off the ice carrying a hockey stick that had a crack in the shaft. He apparently had just noticed the crack and was about to hand it to the manager for disposal. I was right there in front of him. Summoning up all the courage I had in my eleven-year-old body, I said, "Can I have it?" The player looked down at me for a second. "Sure kid, it's yours." He thrust it into my waiting hands. It was a miracle. I had a real professional hockey stick.

Oh My Gosh! Dave and Bones crowded around me. "He GAVE it to you?" exclaimed Bones. "Wow! Are you lucky." Everything was a blur after that. We watched the final period of the game but I was lost in a haze of unexpected good fortune. My hands clutched the stick tightly, but my soul was already in paradise.

We played shinny again at home but it didn't take long for the already-damaged stick to break into two pieces. I taped it up the best I could and kept it for a while in the cellar of our house on Macamley Street. All too soon, our hockey crazy period ended as we grew into adolescence and went our separate ways to different high schools in the Buffalo area. Eventually, the Buffalo Bisons morphed into the Sabres of the National Hockey League. Alas, I find myself living in California now, far from the snowy streets of south Buffalo.

Ah, but the memories remain.

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