The summer is behind us and there’s that ever so slight chill in the air. Fall is here. And for hundreds of kids in Leaside, you know what that means. No, not the sugar rush of Halloween, or even the Thanksgiving weekend, which will yield a precious day off school. No, it really means that hockey at Leaside Gardens starts for another season.
For my twin brother Tim and me, hockey was the great constant in our young lives growing up in Leaside. I remember so vividly my first practice for our first season of house league when I think we were nine. I wore a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey with the number 16 fashioned with white hockey tape on the back. I had no hockey socks as I’d never played organized hockey. So I wore a pair of my mother’s purple wool leotards again with white hockey tape masquerading as stripes. It looked faintly ridiculous.
Most years, Tim and I played on the same team, and on the same line, he at centre and I on the wing. Neither of us was what you might call offensive juggernauts, but we chipped in. One year Tim and I played on Gulley Construction with a quiet blonde-haired kid named Stephen Harper. Yes, that Stephen Harper. In the team photo, you can see Stephen in the back row. I’m in the front row at your far left while Tim is in the front row at the far right. I look at that picture and I get kind of nostalgic for those simpler days when my hair was thicker and I was thinner.
Even back then Stephen was a dedicated right-winger, but he was also strong on defence. (Forgive me. I couldn’t resist that low hanging fruit.) I sometimes wonder how that Leaside house league team all those years ago might have affected the very course of Canadian history. I mean, what might have happened had our coach that year put Stephen Harper at centre, or even at, perish the thought, left wing? How might this country be different today?
Of course, you don’t have a long and storied house league hockey career at Leaside without some injuries along the way. Back in those days, house league was full body contact. I don’t think my brother Tim has ever quite been the same. People sometimes wonder if he was dropped on his head as a baby. I just say, “No, we played house league hockey in the ’70s,” and people nod knowingly.
One season, Tim also broke his leg in a game when he was about 15. Our father is a doctor, and of course he really didn’t think Tim’s leg was broken. It’s become legendary family lore that he made Tim lie on the couch in our family room, in the kind of pain one might normally associate with a broken tibia, until after the Super Bowl – fortunately for Tim the Super Bowl was actually that same day – before he finally relented and took Tim to the hospital to have his leg X-rayed and eventually set. I think that injury all those years ago helps to explain why I’ve become the far superior hockey player as we’ve aged. (We still play in a ball hockey league that occasionally uses Leaside for rainout games.)
To bring it full circle, Tim and I coached our sons together at Leaside in house league for I guess about six or seven years and helped out for several more years thereafter when our boys played Select until they went off to university. We loved every minute of it. Frankly, Tim and I were more broken up when our son’s Leaside hockey careers ended than they ever were.
So with another season of house league hockey upon us, you now know why I look wistfully at the arena every weekend as I drive by on my way to Loblaws. Sometimes I even drop in and watch a game for a while and those great memories come flooding back again.
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis is the award-winning writer of six national bestsellers, including his most recent, One Brother Shy, all published by McClelland & Stewart.