Top News

Your Attention Please

Frank Horvath just had to come to Gander. In August 2006, Mr. Horvath arrived in the airport town on a trip from his summer home in Connecticut with an armful of videotapes of a documentary on how towns like Gander throughout Atlantic Canada welcomed guests on Sept. 11, 2001, during the terrorist attacks on New York City. Months earlier, the man had watched the documentary on television, and was overwhelmed by how Canadians treated the people who landed in their town.

Your attention please - The cold portions of the big blue-painted boards Humber Gardens called seats in the 1980s weren't the most comfortable places to watch a senior league hockey game back when I was a young lad.

But for at least a few games, there were no better seats in the house than the blue boards down behind the net.

That was where I learned what old-time hockey was.

It's been at least 20 years since I spent most of my Saturday evenings at the old Corner Brook stadium, so the memories are starting to fade, but a few still remain clear as ever.

In one game, Dave Matte, the Corner Brook Royals goalie who kids thought was as good as any NHLer back then, and who leaned against the net so much that the paint on the chipped red crossbar left a stain on his sweater, muttered an insult we couldn't hear to archrival Zane Forbes.

Both dropped their gloves, players on each team hopped over the boards as if the bench was on fire, all hell broke loose, and my friends and I had front row seats for the whole thing.

At another game, this time against one of the mainland teams that came to the city during the Royals' 1985 Allan Cup run, hell made another appearance, and as players did their best to bounce their fists off their opponents' chins, the coach of the mainland team walked across the ice to speak with Royals' coach and Gander native Mike Anderson.

Moments later, the two coaches joined the chaos and battled it out on the bench.

Hockey fights like those 20 years ago weren't new to the game then, and they're certainly not new now.

A brawl two weekends ago received so much media coverage in this province last week that you'd swear you were watching one of the American news channels that label the game as being violent when someone gets high-sticked.

A brawl between the new Royals and the even newer Clarenville Caribous took the spotlight for a few days, after it was filmed by a fan and posted on Youtube.

The teams were immediately scorned for their violent actions and for giving the sport a black eye. The fans, some of whom cheered on the event, even received some ridicule.

All of this happened because some senior league hockey players take the game a little too seriously.

I'm by no means good enough to play senior hockey in Newfoundland and my "canonating" slapshot from the blue line that struggles to reach the net is evidence of that.

But I can't imagine showing up for work Monday morning at The Beacon office after a weekend of rough senior hockey, with a black eye and a smile reminiscent of a young, grinning Bobby Clarke.

It's even harder to imagine, say, interviewing a Gander town councillor at a council meeting some Wednesday afternoon, with a bandage over my broken nose and 20 stitches in my right cheek.

"Pay no attention to the stitches," I'd have to say. "Some jerk high-sticked me Sunday afternoon. But, don't worry; I pounded him."

Some players are playing senior league hockey as if they were playing for the Stanley Cup, and even taking the game so seriously they risk life, limb, teeth and fingers to do it.

Earlier this hockey season, one Royals players - a hockey player on the weekend; a health care professional during the week - retired from senior hockey after receiving another concussion. He told the city's newspaper he began feeling spaced out more frequently.

"In the last year or so, I've had three concussions that have been significant enough to have symptoms, and after the last one, those symptoms persisted for a little longer than I wanted," he said. "I'm still having symptoms right now."

He said he received one of those concussions when he was "hit unexpectedly," and he fell to the ice headfirst.

"I lost consciousness when I hit the ice and I had already had my mind made up that the next time I lost consciousness playing hockey, it would be the last time."

Talk about using your head.

The recent brawl between the Caribous and Royals is not about the fans who celebrated it - some ridiculed it - and it is not about the example it sets for children. Kids can watch hockey fights on Hockey Night in Canada or during the week on TSN more frequently than what takes place in front of them in senior hockey league games.

It's more about a bunch of men with regular jobs taking their recreation hockey a little too seriously.

The incident between the Caribous and Royals speaks volumes about the length some of these players - some of them someone's dad, most of them someone's employee - will go just to win a small town hockey game.

What they end up doing, however, is etching themselves into the minds of some young fans who are amazed by their every move at the time, but end up thinking they're fools 20 years later.

Recent Stories