I write this as a final word on the Hockey Day in Canada that was – by all accounts I’ve heard, a highly successful celebration of the Northwest Territories’ contribution to Canada’s game.
My personal contribution to the day’s festivities was as a participant in the long absent MLA/Media All-Star hockey challenge. That the game took place at all was a bit of a minor miracle, and to be honest, until I found myself dragging Roy Dahl’s mildewy, decades-old hockey bag into the media’s change room at the Shorty Brown rink Saturday, I wasn’t sure it would happen at all.
The Native Press publisher’s first attempt to press me into service came with a Facebook message on Dec. 1: “We should revive the Media vs. MLA All-Star hockey game!”
He regaled me with legendary tales of yore. Nellie Cournoyea tending net in moccasins; the CBC’s Marie Wilson guarding the other end. Roy himself minding the cage in the first game in 1992, a 9-9 draw preserved only because the MLAs’ leading scorer – Robert “the Rocket” Redshaw – had his final goal waved off, unable to beat the buzzer.
The last game in ’96 ended unfavourably for Team Media – a 10-3 blowout. There hasn’t been a game between the two sides since.
I immediately resisted, mostly because I have zero hockey skills.
“The only piece of hockey equipment I have are skates!” I protested.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Roy fired back.
It is only natural that politicians and media to be conscripted into such things. Media are the tarnished side of the same coin. All the hot air and self-importance, minus the power and influence.
Nonetheless, I held my ground on the other side of the bridge all through December and January, humouring Roy for a while and then ignoring him all together.
By and by though Roy patiently built his case and expanded his horizon, prodding and gently cajoling politicians and other media members alike, until suddenly it became quite clear, something was going to happen even if most of us weren’t quite surely exactly what that would be. And I, and the rest of NNSL were in danger of being left out.
Shame is a great motivator. But where do I get a hockey stick? Shoulder pads? Does anybody have a cup?
I was 10 years old the last time I played on ice with an actual hockey team. We were the Ptarmigan Airways Ptarmigans. Something like that. My dad was the coach but that didn’t stop me from being the worst player on the team.
I scored one goal during my entire hockey career – a 100-footer that crawled across the ice at about six kilometres per hour before finally poking through the legs of some second grade kid who toppled over the instant the puck crossed the goal line.
Needless to say, I didn’t have high hopes for the big game against the MLAs. At least I had some gear. Roy doesn’t play anymore but still has a bagful of equipment down in the basement, or at least a cup, which I quickly claimed. The rest of the equipment I borrowed from Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly or scrounged from the lost and found.
And glory be, while I exhibit skills approximating a preschool Timbit, there are some media people in town who’ve got game. Herb Mathisen, CBC’s Alex Brockman, Cabin Radio’s Scott Letkeman, publisher Bruce Valpy’s son Noah – if there were a half-dozen of me it would’ve sunk our team, but fortunately we had at least a half-dozen players who actually made sense on ice.
Before the game started I was elected team captain, more due to my age than ability but that only heightened the pressure not to completely embarrass myself. The one good move I did make was recruiting Yellowknifer WIMPS columnist Jon Howe as our goalie. That guy can stop pucks. And stop them he did – most of them.
Rylund Johnson blew past me like I was a saloon door in a Hollywood western and scored on the breakaway but other than one other goal scored by Chris Zouboules, Howe shut the door.
And we won! Final score Media 6, MLAs 2. Athletically, I’ve never won anything in my life but somehow, there I was, age 48, accepting the long forgotten MLA-media trophy at mid-ice. I finished the game a minus one, and fell on my butt five times but I’ll take this victory and cherish it.
Thank you MLAs, thank you teammates, thank you Roy. But next year, I’ll try assistant coach.