Uncomfortably poured into a cheaply sculpted plastic chair on some terrace of a who-cares-what-it’s-name-is-bar, drinking skunked beer, and remembering why it is I escaped Ottawa (where boredom went to die), I became the choice victim of a series of old hockey compatriots; slinging arms over my chest and punching my shoulders. Yes, this was a grand old trip down memory lane. I took heavy drags of Export A greens, known affectionately in the Valley as “Green Death” wondering what was it I came back for, again? To be fair, I was relatively well- adjusted in comparison to many of these charmers. In a bizarre twist of fate, already having a useless Arts degree separated me, since many of these good time “pals” barely finished high school, developed coke addictions, and had a few or more brush-ups with the law. One former teammate went to jail twice: once as a “blow dealin’ bud” and the other for domestic battery. They did, however, play four years of junior hockey while I “write fuckin’ stories er some shit now, eh?” Stranger still, pretty young girls hovered in their general vicinity while the rest of the bar-peasants faded into the shadows to avoid some vitriolic attack or worse yet, a “fuckin’ tilly” (fight).
The whole scene got me thinking. Why is it a pack of generally unemployed malefactors of society, who would probably do horrible sexual tricks to your sister, throw up in your face, and then beat you jimmy-shitless for fun, get so much respect? Worse still, what conditioned them to such depths?
Anyone capable of this brand of self-destructive behaviour can try as they might to convince me of their own personal happiness, but fortunately for me you can’t piss in my ear and tell me it’s raining. I’ve disqualified innate douchebaggery or psychotic dispositions, because either one would be a sick evolutionary joke made at Canada’s expense. And how spiteful a God that would be. Alas, these aren’t terrible people, just people doing terrible things. A bit of junior hockey, as they say, kangaroo court; a sporting experience that fosters a marauding brotherhood of social deviancy – and for a long time it was an infatuation of mine. I quit playing at sixteen, bewildered by the process, a mess emotionally. It was pressure, it was alcohol, and it was them. But to live within its confines for five years chasing an NHL dream that only 600 players a year worldwide get to enjoy? What would the personal effect of it be? And the despondence once you admitted failure…
Air quality isn’t usually a problem in Ottawa, but at Cabino, the bar I was frequenting (I discovered the name at this point), it was somewhere between whiskey-throwup and chlamydia; lucky for me chain-smoking was just about the only way to stay healthy. Between cancer and a cigarette-less night with this species of douchebaga canadensis, I chose the cancer. Under my breath, lighting a stick, I exhaled, “What fucking disasters…”
“Brings them back to the glory years when they would go out as a team to the bar to pick up puck bunnies, eh,” said a hearty growl beside me. “Now it’s to get black-out drunk or to go to a friends house after and do blow with the other ex-junior hockey players who didn’t make it.” The response, lacking brevity and conveniently elaborative, came from a freakishly large bear – strangely outside of its habitat, I thought – with distinctly human features. I squinted, who in the? Samuel? An old friend among the famed few sane of the junior hockey brigades. A former player and former GM of the Rockland Junior Nats, a team once helmed by Brian Murray, now executive extraordinaire for the Ottawa Senators. “Benny how are ya?” he flung out his paw and I extended my lizard fingers to shake.
“Pretty good Sammy, just laying back having a few in the Jungle Gym… Say out of mere curiosity who are these girls?” I quizzed, pointing.
“Think like a neanderthal, Benny. They’re around to catch the next big NHLer or to snag a falling star. Either way most of them don’t know what the H in NHL stands for.”
“What a shame.”
Yes, I had forgotten. Dreaded Gongshow, or the company responsible for the overtly misogynistic and exceedingly popular Junior Hockey Bible; a manual legendary for codifying such Byronics as “lamb-roast,” “swamp-donkey,” and “the reverse oil-rig,” and now bills itself on their official website as “Locker Room Lifestyle.” The self-appointed head-pariah of the multitudes of hockey players in Canada, or the subculture of vulgar creaturedom that helps infect it’s institution. “Why?” I asked Sam, “Why do they do this shit?” At this point I had just witnessed two players pour beer on a helpless girl, then open palm brush the froth into her hair. In a daring act of rebellion, she proceeded to vomit on them.
“Junior hockey is a huge underground fraternity,” he chuckled. “They challenge each other to do the most over-the-top thing, pranks between teammates, trying to steal the biggest beer signage from d.t. [dowtown], or usually by picking up the dirtiest girls in the bar.”
I guess fair is foul and foul is fair.
We shook hands once more and dear Samuel lumbered back to the bolge of a bar leaving me with “Steve” (he made it clear he wanted nothing to do with this article, so I dub thee “Steve”). Did I mention Steve is also a former junior hockey player? Perhaps even the most well travelled of all: Granby Inouk (outside of Montreal), Nepean Raiders, South Ottawa Canadiens, Gloucester Rangers, Athens Aeros, Metcalfe Jets, Clarence Beavers, Alexandria Glens, Winchester Hawks, Cumberland Grads, Ottawa Junior Senators, Clarence Creek Beavers, Terrebonne Cobras, Smith Falls Bears, and a short peaking stint with Chicoutimi in the QMJHL.
But I swear he’s loyal.
“How about you, Mr. Stevey-pevey, you got any salacious tales for me?”
“Not sayin’ shit to you, pal.”
“Oh? Why not?”
“Think I need these guys hatin’ me for chirpin’ shit to a poet? What are ya, fuckin’ David Suzuki at a bar? Fuckin’ observin’ everythin’ y’know…”
Steve, blessed “bud” of mine, I think you’ve told me quite enough already.