Superblades and Hockey Balls

March 21, 2009

by Mike Allder… Growing up in “the
Jungle,” my coin bank was usually very light. I never really got
allowance and it never actually bothered me. I had everything I needed,
not everything I wanted. I always seemed to have the necessities as my
mother called them and that was more than most  kids in “the Jungle”

I was a happy kid; I was content playing road hockey outside after
school and on weekends. We spent hours and hours developing the skills
needed for our weekly neighborhood road hockey games. Having little
money, meant that hockey sticks were scarce. If I broke my stick then
chances were I was not getting a new one anytime soon. I was going to
have to put one of those replacement plastic blades on the shaft.

All the kids used the plastic blades anyway. You could heat them up
and put on the biggest banana curve. You could always tell when a
custom curve job was in progress because the smell of the bubbling
melting plastic would stink up our apartment for hours.

Just like cooking fish had a smell, the smell of the melting plastic
just before it was submerged in a sink of cold water to lock the
desired curve also had a strong stench. Many oven mitts were ruined
after the plastic got too soft and it would stick to the mitt hand
after my custom curve was applied.

Next week, the curve would be redone if I had a bad game. It always
had to be the blades fault so back to the stove for another afternoon
of stench. Some guys would grind the blade down to a lethal sharp point
at the tip of the blade. They were the ones that always seemed to shoot
from everywhere and could rarely hit the net.

When a blade got real cold, it would crack when slashed by another
players stick. A crack meant a quick repair and another trip to the
stove, melting the plastic and smoothing the crack together with a
butter knife. This generally was a temporary repair and meant another
Superblade would have to be purchased in the near future.

I remember two brands of blades were most popular; you could buy
them at the Canadian Tire store. Cooper made the Superblade; it was
white and sold for a little more than a buck. The best blade though,
was a Mylec or Mytec, I do not remember the actual name but I do
remember Phil Esposito who was one of the best players in the NHL in
the early seventies pitched the blade.

The reason this blade was better was it came with two little screws
that held the blade more securely on the shaft. The color was an
off-white. It was my favorite blade and it sold for about $2.

The same company came out with the orange hockey ball that did not
bounce, perfect for road hockey. The only problem was the ball was very
hard when it got cold it would leave a large nasty welt on any thinly
clothed body part that it struck. Tennis balls developed better eye
hand coordination since they were always bouncing.

Looking back, we probably used both balls equally. I preferred the orange hockey ball, though.

The combination of cold days, super banana curves and orange hockey
balls made for many painful afternoons. I remember many times getting
stung in the face as I would do my Borje Salming imitation sliding in
the hard packed snow to block a shot.

Most my welts and bruises I sustained on my legs and thighs. Road
hockey was great fun and great exercise. We spent hours in the fresh
cold air and would play well into the night when our only light would
be a single street light. Many times games ended when the ball got lost
or we just could not see the ball anymore.

We always tried to have two goalies and tried to have two real mesh
tube nets. Many times the goals were made of winter boots, or a dirty
chunk of ice that we banged of a cars wheel well. I never really
developed that booming slap shot.

I was always afraid of breaking my stick, so I forever would become
the playmaker. I always looked to pass and even in my adult years, I
still favour a perfect pass to set up a goal than scoring a goal
myself. I guess old habits stay with you for life, I know that is one
habit, I will never break, even though I can now afford a new stick.

In Search of Tony ‘O’

March 20, 2009

by Mike Allder… Bill Gardner played center for the Chicago Blackhawks back in October 1982. A quick, journeyman fourth-line offensive checker, Bill would toil for the ‘Hawks in the starting lineup for five seasons; he would spend another four seasons alternating between bus travel and plane travel.

After stints in the minors Bill would finish his pro career with four seasons in Austria.

It was the early morning of Oct. 17, 1982. I, along with my new bride, were at Toronto International Airport waiting for our honeymoon flight to Florida. We had been married the day before and like most weddings it had been on a Saturday.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was overjoyed to be married and looked forward to a long life with my new wife. My friend Paul, who had been one of my ushers also got up early to drive us to the airport and he decided to wait and see us off.

The previous night we had left our reception at about nine and gone to my grandmother’s apartment to get changed before heading back, spending the last couple hours thanking and handing out stupid doily-wrapped wedding cake to our guest.

The first thing I did when I got to the apartment was turn the television on so as to catch the last period of the Leaf, Blackhawks game. I whipped off my rented tux, those fake leather shiny shoes and that ugly bow tie, all while watching the game. We had told our guest that we would back within the hour since my grandmothers apartment was about 10 minutes away.

We were now going to be late since we had driven over with my other usher Bruce and now his rusty old truck was not going to start. It was freezing cold that night and his battery was dead. Bonus, back up to the apartment to catch the end of the game, the Leafs lost 3-2.

It was almost two hours by the time we were able to get ourselves back to the North York Veterans Hall. My hockey buddies were all convinced that I had snuck in a “quickie” with my new bride. That is why they all assumed we were so late. “No the battery died and I watched the Leaf game.”

Back at the reception my N.W.A.A. hockey team had all changed into their hockey jerseys and we all partied the night away dancing and carousing and rock’ in to the many Stones songs that I had requested from the only non-hockey fan in the room that night, our DJ.

We were all sweaty and tired. It was as if we had all been out playing our usual Saturday night game at Forest Hill Arena.

While at the airport I spotted Denis Savard. I quickly figured out that the Blackhawks would be catching an early flight back home for an evening game against Detroit. I left my new bride standing alone with our luggage as Paul and me would set out to find and get an autograph from ‘Hawk legend goalie Tony Esposito.

We scoured the complete departure level we could not find him anywhere. We saw many other players but not Tony. He had played goal the night before so he had to be there. But where?

I spotted Bill Gardner and walked over to inquire as to where Tony ‘O’ could be. Billy told us that Tony hides in one of the private lounges and just stays to himself. I guess it was one of those ‘goalie things’. It was at that moment that my wife had spotted us and carrying the two bags scurried over to where Paul, Billy and myself were standing.

I introduced her to Bill as if we were old long time friends. We explained to Bill that we had been married the day before and were on our way to Florida for our honeymoon. After congratulating us, Billy left to catch his flight.

The weeks passed and for whatever reason my wife and I were now standing inside Maple Leaf Gardens. We were not just inside the Gardens, we were standing behind the visitor’s bench and the Chicago Blackhawks were just coming onto the ice for morning practice.

I still do not remember exactly why we were right at the bench that day but we were.

I spotted number 14 Bill Gardner skating by the bench. “Billy” I hollered loudly. He turned his head and came right over immediately. He took off his glove and held out his hand to shake mine. I was bewildered he obviously had me confused with someone else. “How are ya ?” he said as I shook his hand.

“Billy I think you got me confused with someone else,” still puzzled by his friendliness. “No I remember last time we were in Toronto I met you and your new wife at the airport before you went on your honeymoon.” I was dumbfounded. “You remember? That was back in October.”

He put his glove back on. “How could I forget you? You left your beautiful wife just standing alone in the airport while you looked for Espo.” he said has he skated away, confusingly shaking his head.

It was mid-February and I had been married four months already and here, this pro hockey player with all the travelling, all the people he must meet remembers our insignificant obscure chance meeting.

Was it that strange? Was it that bizarre what I had done that October day? I mean, I had what I thought would be the rest of my life with this woman.

How many opportunities does one get to meet Tony Esposito?

Years later I was given a small wooden sign that hangs on my door to this day. It reads “We interrupt this marriage to bring you the hockey season.” Little did my ex-wife realize that the interruption would begin on the second day of our marriage.