BACKWARDS ON ICE by Peter Nolan Smith

Back in 2014 the Bruins overcame a horrible 1st period to tie the Blackhawks and force another sudden death overtime. This time the flow of time was in the Bruins’ favor and Paille scored the game winner. Game 3 will be in Boston.

I love hockey.

Several years ago I beat my cousin Oil Can on his $15,000 table hockey game at his house on the North Shore.

4-3 with a stomping on decider.

“I’d like to see you do that on ice.” Oil Can wasn’t a sore loser, but he had lost four games at home. His son was disappointed since Harrison had been working hard to be the first person to beat his father.

“I’d be lucky to score a goal.” I was useless on skates.

“It’d be a four-game sweep with each one a shut-out.” Oil Can wasn’t bragging about his prowess with a hockey stick. He had started for our high school as a freshman. Harrison was playing basketball.

“Your hockey team went 0-17 my senior year.” 1970 was forty years ago.

“And the next year we reached the playoffs.” His team had challenged the hockey hierarchy through 1971 to 1973.

“You were a good squad.” I had seen them beat BC High at Boston Arena. Our home rink was Rindge Arena off 128.

“We could go play a one-on-one right now on Route 1. I’ve got all the equipment.” He had starred in his high school re-uniuon game the previous winter. He was even better in baseball.

“Not a chance.” I was intent on enjoying my victory at table hockey. “I can’t skate backwards.”

“What was that about?”

“My father brought us down to the pond up in Maine.” My father was from Westbrook. Boys were expected to skate six months after they learned to walk. There was a pond overlooking Portland Harbor. The smell of bread from the Nissen Bakery mixed with the smell of the sea. “He told us he was going to teaching us how to skate backwards. My brother was 5 and I was 4.”

“A good age to learn.”

“We had walked down the street with skates over our shoulders. Mine were CCM.” Skating backwards would help me play for the Bruins in the future. They never beat the Canadians. I was going to be a star, since I could skate forward faster than anyone in our neighborhood, except for Charleen Davis, but she was a girl and girls didn’t play hockey. “The ice was clean and my father showed us how to position our feet. My brother and I got on the ice. We should like him. He pushed off and tripped over a crack. His head smacked the ice and he stood up with a smile.”

“Your father was a good skater.” Oil Can had lived down the street from our teaberry ranch house on the South Shore of Boston.

“Yeah, but blood was flowing down his face. He had cut his head and the smile was from a concussion. He had broken his leg skiing the year before and I thought that he would have to wear a cast on his head.” He told me that he wasn’t hurt and I believed him.” I loved that man.

“Ice is hard, but not that hard.”

“After that I never wanted to skate backwards.” My father gave up on teaching us how to skate backwards.

“So no game today?” Oil Can wanted to show his son that he wasn’t a loser. Harrison loved him either way.

“Not a chance, but I’ll play another game to seven on the table hockey.” I was happy to give him a second shot at shining for Harrison. I have a son and Fenway loved his father too.

“You’re on.” Oil Can popped open to beers and we clinked bottles. “Here’s to our fathers.”

Harrison toasted us with Coke. He was 11 and one day soon he would beat his father at his own game. It was only a matter of time.

ps I took Oil Can in the second series 4-2, because in table hockey I didn’t have to skate backwards.


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