The following excerpt is sponsored content
An outsider plays old-timer hockey in the wilds of New Brunswick
Drive the night, driving out to old-timer hockey in January in New Brunswick, new fallen snow and a full moon on Acadian and Loyalist fields, fields beautiful and ice-smooth and curved like old bathtubs. In this blue light Baptist churches and ordinary farms become cathode, hallucinatory. Old Indian islands in the wide river and trees up like fingers and the strange shape of the snowbanks.
It’s not my country, but it is my country now, I’m a traveller in a foreign land and I relish that. The universe above my head may boast vast dragon-red galaxies and shimmering ribbons of green, and the merciless sun may be shining this moment somewhere in Asia, but tonight along the frozen moonlit Saint John River the country is a lunatic lunar blue and the arena air smells like fried onions and chicken. We park by the door, play two twenty-five-minute periods, shake hands, pay the refs, knock back a few in dressing room No. 5, and drift back from hockey pleasantly tired, silent as integers. And I am along for the ride.
Why do I enjoy the games so, enjoy the primal shoving and slashing and swearing and serious laughing at it all afterward? In these games I have taken a concussion, taken a skate blade like an axe between my eyes and I jammed brown paper towels on the cut to staunch the blood. Stitches, black eyes, and my nose is still broken from a puck running up my stick on its mission. Might get my nose fixed one of these days. One opposing player, when younger and wilder, is reported to have bitten another in the meat of the eye!
Today the inside of my thigh is a Jackson Pollock splatter painting: yellow green purple nebulas under the skin, flesh bruised from pucks hitting exactly where there is no padding (the puck has eyes). At night my right foot pulses and aches where I stopped two slap-shots on the same spot years ago. My elbows are sore and they click when I move my arms. My joints are stiff when I climb the pine stairs, especially now, since yesterday I took the boys skiing and then I played hockey at night. Rub on extra horse liniment. My neck won’t move freely and a check wrecked my shoulder last April and for weeks I had to sleep on my back or the pain awoke me. Never got the shoulder looked at. I pay money for these injuries, these insults to my spirit.
So why pay, why play the game? As the Who sing, I Can’t Explain. Hockey is my slight, perverse addiction. Certainly I crave the physical side, especially versus working at the desk on 300 e-mails or doodling in a dull meeting. I enjoy the contrast, the animal aspects. I crave a skate, a fast turn on the blades.
And I play because I am a snoop. I learn things I would never otherwise know about New Brunswick, receiving a kind of translation, a geography lesson mile by mile, a roadmap, gossip, secrets, an unofficial oral history of this place’s lore and natives. My team translates and I am along for the ride, a spy in Night-town.
We ride the highway down from Nackawic where we always lose to the Axemen or the Bald Eagles, millworkers on both teams up there. I’m deep in the back seat of Al’s 4 by 4, but I spy a deer waiting by the shoulder like a mailbox. I point it out to Al at the wheel. The deer is hunched, nose out, poised to run across the busy lanes, its dark eyes inches from my face as our metal box blows past its snout and ears and private insects.
I seem to hit one of those every two years, Al says. Wrecked more damn vehicles. Al, as did his father, works fitting people with artificial limbs. The passengers in our 4 by 4 all hold bags of gas station chips and open beer”what we call travellers. I take up their habits.
Powder the goalie says, I hit a deer last year and it was stuck across the windshield, this stupid face staring in at me in the damn side window. Damn deer’s fault, up in grass above, everything hunky-dory, and doesn’t it decide to cross right when I’m there. I must have drove 200 feet before the deer finally dropped off.
You keep it?
Didn’t want to get busted. Three a.m. and I was drinking.
That’s when you keep them. Toss it in your freezer.
Ain’t got no freezer. Had to stop later at the gas station, headlights all pointed every which way.
To be continued…