When I was five years old my dad flooded our backyard and gave us our first skating rink. It turned out to be the last, the one and only, but it was glorious, in the absence of future vision. That same year, my dad spanked my naked backside with his belt for playing road hockey in our driveway with Lance, the kid from down the road, when he had told us not to. The spanking cured me of him more than hockey: I was always Guy Lafleur, #10, it would take more than a few spiteful spankings to cure me of that.
My dad quit his career later that year and enrolled in bible college. We were now too poor for hockey, power skating lessons, new skates. My dad was now too busy to flood a whole lot of back yards. There was a public rink in the park across the street from us. The ice was well-maintained, the lighting was good. Once a month or so my dad might walk my brother and I over, join in a rolling game of shinny. The hockey sacrifice had fallen entirely on the shoulders of my brother and I. My dad had decided to join an oldtimers hockey team at the college. Got himself nick-named “The Silver Fox”. My dad’s equipment was all new. He got regular rink time at the college—games and practice. He brought his full gear, maybe minus a helmet, to the rink across from the house. Dad liked to light it up. I don’t think he ever noticed his two boys floundering in their threadbare second-hand skates, bought through the classified section. That and a stick is what we had. While Dad was deking, we were mostly trying to stand up. Ankles burning, unable to skate backwards, I snowplowed onto my face over and over and over again.
Floor hockey was on the Phys-ed curriculum at the Alliance Academy in Quito. It was quite popular, actually. We played it in night exhibition matches as well, all-ages affairs. I left Canada before ever properly getting a chance to learn how to skate, but not before I’d learned how to take a wrist shot. Against the Americans, I scored over and over and over again from all angles, and it wasn’t difficult. My teachers and schoolmates were amazed at first and then they were sort of irate: somehow they regarded my being Canadian as an advantage that was it unsporting of me to employ. A chaplain from Wisconsin, double my age and weight, cross-checked me headfirst into the wall.
I liked hockey so much that on the family’s furlough year, when I was in Grade 10, I attended my friend Dean’s morning games. Dean and his Dad picked me up at the typical ghastly hour, like 5 a.m. I drank bad coffee out of machine with Dean’s dad. Dean wasn’t playing at the highest level, it was maybe second-tier, but seriously, those guys were all so good. It was weird standing there, though, after having lived in an institution in South America the previous four years. All of this world, of chain-smoking dads in mustaches willing to pick up their kid’s friend in the dead of winter and buy them a coffee, of innate dippsy-doodling, wasn’t mine anymore: in a few months, I’d get pulled away again.
I tried to play the other sport. But you try learning soccer at age 12, and then taking on a whole lot of South Americans who have been playing it since before they can remember. With hard work and practice you can make the team, maybe, but you’re never Guy Lafleur. At first, I tried to get that number in South America. But everyone laughed and said I wasn’t good enough for #10. In South American that number belongs to Pele and Diego Maradona. Hockey is so far away, and Guy Lafleur is so impossible to explain to those who haven’t seen him, that the easier thing is just to keep your mouth shut and take whatever’s left over.
My dad when he returned to Canada volunteered as a chaplain for a junior hockey team. I wrote a story about that, immediately after writing The Man Who Robbed Albertans. I have definitely been trying to make the most of my nine-year stay in the non-Vancouvery parts of the province. Mann from Mars, a story that I published in Event Magazine, is set in Creston. TMWRAlbertans is in Lumby and Lavington. And the hockey chaplain one is in Victoria. I also set my genre novel in the B.C. mountains, sort of in the hills between Lumby and Enderby. We got lost on a forestry road once in a sedan with summer tires. I thought I’d turned onto one of a few minor roads between the two towns. I was way off. I just kept driving long after the road had gone paved to gravel to dirt to tree branches hitting both sides of the car. We were halfway up a mountain, but it was like the foliage just kept sucking you in. The novel was basically an answer to recurring dreams about that adventure. I’m not saying that the book, which I called The Springs at Mt. Lutzerath, or any of the stories are brilliant. Just that the natural setting of The Monashees, in and around there, is so intense it makes you want to take a crack at it, the same way that I imagine mountaineers might feel when a big-ass new summit slides into view. I probably missed, but as Michael Scott once wrote,