This is an image that is ingrained in my mind, as well as every man over the age of 40 who grew up in Boston. Hockey was king in Boston during the early 70's. The Red Sox were mediocre, the Patriots were less than mediocre and the Celtics were rebuilding after dominating the NBA for a decade. The Boston Bruins, founded in 1924, became the first franchise in the NHL hailing from the USA , but hockey always took a backseat to the other major sports. That is until 1966. That was the year Bobby Orr put on the Black and Gold and showed the NHL a brand of hockey that had never been seen before. Mr. Orr's play combined with his teams new found success started a hockey craze in the New England area that lasted for twenty years. In the time of political upheaval and societal changes Orr was a clean cut, hard working kid who embodied many of the ideals that held tight through out the small towns and burbs of the Northeast. Every parent wanted their kid to play hockey. Every kid wanted to be Bobby Orr. Whether it be on the asphalt of the street, outside on the local pond or organized in a rink, every kid played hockey.
I could always skate. I don't remember how I learned or what age I started, but from December to March each year my friends and I would skate wherever there was ice. We would skate on iced over parking lots, backyards flooded by doting parents or at the local MDC rinks. Except when playing hockey in organized leagues, we never wore protective gear. If you fell it was certain you would get a bump, bruise or in the worst case, a concussion. Winter seemed to fly by. We reveled in the cold. We were sad when winter was over and looked forward to the next year when we could see our breath again. Fast forward 30 years.
Times have changed. Kids don't play outside in the winter anymore. The hills and ponds that used to be filled with the sounds of children playing are now eerily silent. Cautious parents and the Internet have made winter a time to embrace our inner mammal and hibernate. I have found myself spending less and less time outdoors as each winter passes. From the warmth of my living room I stare out at the white and cold and recall the sting of the cold air on my cheeks while gliding across the ice. I signed my boy up for skating lessons.
Four weeks ago he strapped on skates for the first time. The first day on the ice was like watching him learn how to walk, but accelerated, times 365. He spent the first five minutes of the hour long class holding on to the boards and the next ten minutes lying on the ice making snow angels, minus the snow. The instructors at the rink have a hands off approach, so until he was ready to learn how to get up he was going to have to be content with crawling and watching. Eventually he tried to get up on his skates. The instructor worked with him for a few minutes showing him how to balance on one knee and push himself up to standing. Once standing he shuffled his feet in order to move then, upon feeling the slightest bit unsteady, would make himself have a "controlled" fall down to the ice, where it was safe. Each time he got up to standing, he shuffled a bit further and a bit further. By the end of class he and the other beginners followed the instructor slowly around the rink like ducklings following their mom.
At one point he broke away from the pack of about twenty kids. He had seen me watching from across the rink and started toward me. He had a huge smile from ear to ear as he moved cautiously over the ice in my direction. When he got about twenty feet from me I had a serious case of deja-vu.
I then remembered a morning in my living room when Matt was just a year old and a new walker. He walked from the foot rest, where he was balancing, to me sitting on the couch, across the living room. As he approached the couch he had a huge smile on his face. He fell into my arms and we laughed and hugged.
When Matt reached the glass and the boards from where I was watching he mouthed something inaudible then started back toward the other end of the rink. As he skated away I was filled with more pride and joy than I 've experianced as a parent to this point. Not because he is going to be the next Bobby Orr, but because he is happy, growing, learning and still seeks me out. I hope he knows that whatever he's doing, where ever he is, I'll be there... watching.