Back in elementary school, every year over the course of a few weeks beginning in February, all students were able to participate each Friday afternoon in electives. These were high times at my elementary school before lawsuits. We’d start to get really excited for Fridays mid-Wednesdays. We had the choice to sign up for cross country skiing, downhill skating, bowling, snowshoeing, arts & crafts, indoor archery (yikes) or gymnastics. I had no skis, hated bowling, saw no potential for fun walking on snow, considered arts & crafts as a form of cruel, blatant and unusual punishment, saw no point in firing arrows indoors, and gymnastics? Nah.
Okay. So, I knew how to skate, but was never a hockey-calibre-type skater. My arms had to stay splayed a little from my side to maintain some semblance of balance. I could start up okay, get up to a decent speed and stop okay (even snowing the odd kid) but it seems that I inherited weak ankles from my father’s side of the family. I was told I came from a long line of weak-ankled Pecores with genealogical roots dating back 500 years to a little thatched village on the Hungarian / Austrian / Australian border. (Thanks Ancestry.ca!)
When I was about eleven or twelve, just when the cool skaters began using cool skates with plastic that would go right down the blade, I was involved in a terrible on-ice accident where I collided with another kid who was a really good figure skater for his age. He’d spin, jump, twirl in both directions and just pull out all sorts of crazy stuff. The guys in my class were kind of rough on him, but when he landed his first perfect backflip without cracking his adolescent skull, it pretty well shut everybody up. Any kind of back flip takes some solid courage! On ice? Hats off!! So, long story short, we collided on a Friday afternoon; his all-polished white leather skate which had little nasty barbs on the toe point smashed into my knee. Down I went, cringing, trying hard not to cry. No one over the age of 10 is ever allowed to cry in public. That was the last time I skated. It’s not tragic as I had no interest in becoming either a figure skater nor a hockey player. Actually, apart from weak ankles, I don’t really know how to punch someone really hard in the face while on skates (or any type of footwear).
IN ICE HOCKEY, NO ONE IS TOUGHER THAN THE “GOON”. THOSE PLAYERS HAVE ONE MISSION: TO PROTECT THE STAR PLAYERS AT ANY PRICE.
I know a handful of names in the world of professional hockey. Just in passing. The real famous ones. The Great ones that score a lot of goals, and the ones that get in a lot of fights. I know a Penguin and the guy that was on all the lunch kits when I was a kid. Eddie Shack. I used to know the name of a guy with a massive red moustache but his name escapes me. Maybe he wasn’t that good at scoring or raining down fisted blows on people. I got sucked in hard into a documentary called The Last Gladiators, shortly after watching a documentary on Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius’, the Emperor of Rome. After his old man’s death Commodus became Emperor and was the only Roman Emperor to fight to the death as a Gladiator. He killed his opponent in a manner unfitting a shifty impulsive petulant Emperor who only became Emperor after his father declared him to be Emperor. No one skated or played much hockey back in around 180 AD, but man did they love to beat on one another in an enclose ring.
The Last Gladiator takes a delightful look at the role of the hockey goon and how it’s changed over the years. It highlights a few classic goons but really focuses on this one retired goon that beat up people in the NHL for years most notably as a Montreal Canadian. Chris ‘Knuckles’ Nilan boasts of having racked up twenty-six years’ worth of penalty minutes while playing 688 games professionally in the National Hockey League from 1980 to 1992. Or something like that. I dunno. I just made some of that stuff up to make me sound ‘sports smart’. It’s a bit of a tragic-hero type tale where he is celebrated for his propensity to punch people out but discarded and having to redefine himself as more than an over the hill on ice brute. The common takeaway from this modern-day gladiator tale is that most people find themselves in a situation at least once in their life when they think to themselves “man, I’d like to punch that dude in the face,” but can never do it, but for the goon and as long as it’s on the ice, it’s a major perk to be relished while it lasts because it’s frowned upon in a Wal-Mart.