One of the many things I’ve missed in my corona-curtailed world is playing my regular ball hockey game on Tuesday nights from April to October. Yes, for the first time since 2003, my Tuesday nights are free, and I don’t like it. For the last 17 years or so my twin brother, Tim, and I have played in, and helped manage, the men’s division of the Withrow Park Ball Hockey League down in Riverdale. Of course, COVID put an end to our regular season. I miss the competition, the workout, and perhaps most of all, I miss the guys. There are about 90 or so players across six teams. They come from all walks of life. Some are lawyers, some are journalists, some are doctors, some work for the city, some in finance, some at the CBC. It’s a very eclectic group that spans the demographic spectrum. Hockey is the common denominator, along with the post-game analysis at a Danforth watering hole. But I miss it. I really do.
I think it’s an age thing. Hockey is a time machine for me. Even now at 60 (ack!), playing hockey still feels the same to me as it did decades ago. Let’s not dwell on how it feels the morning after, but during the game, I’m locked in the amber of my youth. But not this year. At least not yet.
With Toronto now in Phase 3, we, the guardians of the men’s league, are in the preliminary stages of planning an abbreviated but COVID-safe ball hockey season. And I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve had a new stick taped and ready to go since March that I still haven’t tried out yet. But it won’t be like any other ball hockey season we’ve ever had. We’re working through all the details, but things will be different.
Teams will be smaller to ensure we can social distance on the bench. You might think that the unholy stench of aging men in full sweat might lead to social distancing quite naturally, but we’ll be enforcing it strictly when we return. There’ll be no face-offs, which is just fine with me. I’ve never been very good at them anyway. Often by the time I’m lined up and ready, the ball has been dropped and my opponent has stolen it and is already halfway to our blue line. So, I’m okay with the face-off ban.
There’ll be no physical contact among the players. Now that will be a change. We’ll all have an imaginary cushion of space around us with only stick checks from afar permitted. Again, right up my street. I have lots of experience waving my stick in the general direction of opposing players as they blow by me. This new rule merely crystallizes my traditional approach to checking.
We’ll be shortening our games to allow the benches, penalty boxes, nets, door handles, and our mascot, to be sanitized between games. Not having to run with lung-bursting intensity for quite as long doesn’t sound like a bad thing to me. In fact, I’m all for it.
Even though we play on outdoor hockey pads, when we’re watching the other games, we’ll all be wearing masks as constant and visible reminders that these are not normal times. I’m happy with this rule and have grown accustomed to wearing my very fashionable designer mask whenever I go out anyway. Besides, at the games it will help mitigate the aforementioned aroma of sweaty ball hockey players. However, the traditionally acidic and acerbic heckling of the players may be compromised by the masks’ muffling effects. So be it.
By the time you’re reading these words, we may well be back playing what might only resemble ball hockey to the discerning eye. But we’ll be back, and we’ll be safe. And, perhaps most importantly, we’ll be enjoying the great camaraderie and sense of community we’ve all missed so much. Now where did I put that new stick?