Breaking the ice

Blades carving the ice, quick stops shooting up fine clouds of snow, repeated clapping of slap shots, whistles blowing, and crowds roaring are the familiar sights and sounds that are once again heard over the last several days as the National Hockey League ended its lockout. Missed by fans since October, they can now cheer for favorite teams and players. A sport enjoyed for centuries with roots in several cultures, youth through college and professional leagues have played it with increasing popularity in the last mid-century to the present. Who doesn’t remember the “Miracle on Ice” from the 1980 Olympics and since then at least know of local boys in youth leagues? With winter upon us, outdoor hockey is also enjoyed by those lucky enough with nearby ponds or fabricated rinks in their backyards.

Talk to nearly any fourth-grader across New York State and they can tell you something about an early form of the game from their studies of state history. In addition to its geography, students at this level learn about the development of our nation with a focus on New York from early man, Native American tribes, European settlement, conflicts between various groups such as the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and onward to where we are today. As far as hockey, they learn that it was one of many Dutch influences from the earliest settlers to what is now New York. Before taken over by the Duke of York in the mid-1600s, New York was called New Netherlands, and what is now New York City was called New Amsterdam. Along with such things as waffles, tulip festivals, Sinter Klaas, dyed eggs, and divided doors from the Dutch, “kolven” was played with a golf-like stick and ball with posts stuck in the ice for goals. Brought from the Netherlands, it continued to be enjoyed by the Dutch immigrants in the new colony. Among other cultures with forms of hockey, the Native Americans also played a game on ice similar to lacrosse on New York’s many frozen ponds and waterways, which was most certainly observed by early French explorers and settlers.

For the young and hearty, those who love to play hockey will play a pickup game nearly any chance they get, particularly outside. No matter how frigid the air, the skaters love the natural setting and embrace the old fashioned fun with abounding energy. Often the process of grooming the ice with shoveling snow and sweeping water across the ice to make it smooth takes more time than actual skate time, but it is worth the effort and part of the experience. In times past, some boys have been known to make an igloo complete with a smoke hole and fire to warm their hands. Such were the boys whom most likely made up the eventual “Dream Team” of the 1980 Olympics whose 33rd anniversary game is approaching in less than three weeks and was played in New York. Clearly the underdogs with amateur college players, the American team was never expected to do very well, much less win against the professional Soviet team. Nonetheless, this is precisely what they did. Many people today have vivid memories of the game and where they were when they saw or heard about the greatest sport upset in history.

An inspirational movie to watch depicting this great Olympic event is the movie “Miracle.” Released in 2004, Kurt Russell played head coach Herb Brooks with actual hockey players in the movie to give it credible hockey footage. Anyone who plays hockey or appreciates its skill would concur that it would be more practical to teach some acting skills to them rather than the other way around. The movie leaves the viewer feeling inspired about being American, the value of teamwork, hope, hard work, endurance, faith, and family. “Do you believe in miracles?” is one of the most famous lines in the movie said in the last few seconds of the game against the Soviets with the original broadcast replayed with all its genuine emotion. The original broadcast of President Jimmy Carter is poignant in speaking of how Americans needed to pull up their bootstraps and get back to the values that made this country great. Other famous lines include, “Great moments are born from great opportunity. That’s what we have here tonight. Tonight we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were meant to be here tonight. This is your game. This is your time, now go out there and take it!” Other favorites include, “Beat those Commie bastards” and “You can’t be common, the common man goes nowhere; you have to be uncommon,” as well as, “The legs feed the wolf.”

Hockey is clearly an “all-American” sport that is enjoyed by so many. The professionals may earn millions, but much of the true fun is found with the youth and on outside ponds. Herb Brooks said it well with, “It was a lot more than a hockey game, not only for those who watched it, but for those who played it. I’ve often been asked in the years since Lake Placid what was the best moment for me. Well, it was here, the sight of 20 young men of such differing backgrounds now standing as one; young men willing to sacrifice so much of themselves all for an unknown. A few years later, the U.S. began using professional athletes at the Games – Dream Teams. I always found that term ironic because now that we have Dream Teams, we seldom even get to dream. But on that weekend, as America and the world watched, a group of remarkable young men gave the nation what it needed most; a chance, for one night, not only to dream, but a chance, once again, to believe.”

Make it a good week and whatever you do, “Don’t forget to bring your game.” Thanks for reading, Mary

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