My brother and I used to play outside on Saturdays, sometimes against the Schwartz kids but mostly one on one. The goalie was two 10-gallon buckets and the goal was a sawhorse and there wasn’t a lot of room. We’d come in frozen in time for Bugs Bunny (seriously. Bugs Bunny) and then HNIC followed every Saturday.
In my mind’s eye, I remember them all like it was yesterday. Bobby Orr, the kid so incredible even my Dad said nice things about him (my Dad hated the Bruins because of their hair, but never said a discouraging word about Orr. He’d have held Derek Sanderson down and shaved his head for free, though. The Bruins, according to my Dad, were “hippies” and “hoods” and hoods were the absolute worst. Maybe that’s why I loved the Bruins).
My Grandma loved the Leafs, even after the rest of the family left them (Dad stopped talking about the Leafs after the Frank Mahovlich trade which I remember extremely well) she hung in there. Grandma loved Mike Palmateer, but she’d yell at him for leaving the net. “Get back in there!” she’d yell. I miss her, she was a terrific woman. One time the Leafs were on HNIC in a snowstorm and the antenna on the roof moved so we didn’t get a good picture. She sent Grandpa up on the roof in that storm, just because she couldn’t see Dave Keon.
Keon was a wonder, especially on the PK. Dave Keon was very fast and smart, those two things being important to the PK. They used to give the good linemates to Norm Ullman and Keon would get the grunge or the kids, but soon enough they’d be scoring too.
The fastest men I remember were Yvan Cournoyer–I hated the Habs, but he’d bring chills to your spine, the guy was electric–and little Oakland Seal Bobby Sheehan. They interviewed him one night on HNIC, I watched intently while holding this hockey card
and I saw Cournoyer take Minnesota’s Cesare Maniago’s head clean off (almost) with a slap shot just inside the blueline. The Flyers were on sometimes, Bobby Clarke was always the big story. Mostly it was the original 6, the Hawks with brilliant Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita but also men like Cliff Koroll and Eric Nesterenko. The Rangers were on plenty too, its funny but they were the team with helmets according to my memory but Bruce MacGregor is the only name I recall wearing one for them during that period.
It was a lot about the Habs getting every damn call you could think of, and hating them for it. It was a lot about the Bruins and their offense, about the Leafs and their young defense and about those hours on Saturday night when the television was on while the adults drank beer, played cards and asked me for the score (I always watched the game, usually with the adults to start and then they’d go play cards but keep one eye on the game).
By the time the Oilers started winning Stanley’s I was an adult, but the HNIC experience was still strong in the playoffs. I remember the night EDM won their first Stanley, the pass from Kurri to 99 on a two-team line change everyone but the two HOFers agreed on and the two Pat Lafontaine goals that had us holding our breath for half an hour. I remember G7 in 1987 and the pure joy of 1990. In 2006 spring my wife and kids watched the Stanley run with me–just like it had been so many years ago with my Dad–and I genuinely hope we get to do that again someday.
HNIC is probably coming off the CBC in a year or two and it’ll get a facelift and a fresh coat of paint. I don’t think it will matter–hockey on Saturday in Canada remains a beautiful tradition. I think my Dad would be pleased that its one of our shared experiences I still hold dear. I might be able to get him to sit down and watch for awhile. He might even like some of the haircuts. He’d be pissed about the lockout (God Almighty I don’t know what he’d say but it wouldn’t be good), but I’d get him talking about the Mahovlich trade before the first goal and he’d be swearing at the Habs by intermission.
Time to welcome back the hoods and hippies. Our beautiful game is once again under the bright lights of the big league. It’s Hockey Night in Canada.