Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rink Rats and Polar Bears

On Monday, I did a live report from an outdoor rink downtown, where several guys were playing a game of shinny. The report was for the supper hour newscast and talked about climate-related research suggesting Canada’s outdoor hockey season could disappear by the middle of the century.The findings by scientists at McGill and Concordia universities, have just been published.

It’s difficult to imagine winter without outdoor rinks! I’ve played countless hours of hockey on outdoor rinks, with countless wonderful friends. Where winter activities are concerned, my philosophy has always been, why get in a car and drive for an hour or more to a ski hill where I spend a small fortune to wait in line, get a few moments of exercise and then wait in line again? I'd much rather spend hours getting constant exercise at the rink down the street for the low price of - free!

I was late coming to the sport of hockey and was talked into trying to skate by a friend who, during a visit to our home, happened to have an extra pair of skates in his car. I was in my early twenties and found myself on my hands and knees, doing an unwelcome in-depth analysis of crack propagation on sub-zero surfaces. I couldn’t stand up! He loaned me the skates and eventually, I managed to remain upright, while using my hockey stick as a third limb. I became addicted and steadily improved.

I was at the outdoor rink every chance I got! On January 16th, 1985, I played for three hours in -21 degree cold and froze my toe. I went to the emergency room, where doctors placed my foot in a bowl full of cold water. My toe was black and for close to two years, it remained various shades of sickly green, with gnarled pieces of skin falling off it.

Could I stay away? No.

I would play for hours, early in the morning and very late at night. On January 2nd, 1999, I played for one and a half hours in -16 degree cold with a baseball cap on my head! There may have been a wind chill that night. We were a bunch of guys zooming around the ice, playing hockey, when an elderly gentleman with no hockey stick stepped onto the ice, skated around for a moment and then came over to me to tell me I had better check my ear. I remember almost curtly brushing him off and then stopping moments later, to pull off my gauntlets and touch my ear. I couldn’t feel it. I sat in an emergency room for four hours and never saw a doctor. For about two weeks after that, my ear was flopped away from my head, limply hanging perpendicular to the side of my skull.

After Monday’s report, I noticed the temperature was going well above-zero for the rest of this week. Yesterday, I woke-up, grabbed my skates, gauntlets, a stick, puck and tuque and headed to an outdoor rink, where I skated around for about an hour and a half. It’s an outdoor rink that uses a zamboni and, on a day when the temperature was -10 and the sky mainly sunny, I paused a few times to ponder the threat of global warming to rink rats and polar bears.

Outdoor hockey rinks keep a lot of kids out of trouble and many self-confessed rink rats have gone on to become professional hockey superstars. Though the findings remain unpublished, I’m afraid I, on the other hand, have gone on to stand as wholly unscientific proof that as time spent on cold rinks increases, intelligence moves dramatically in the other direction.

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