#YEG: He Shoots, He Scores

A love of hockey tethers an expat to the City of Champions.

Illustration Josh Holinaty

My childhood in Edmonton can be summed up in one word: Hockey.

I grew up in Aspen Gardens, a neighbourhood blessed with outdoor rinks, quiet streets and legions of children who worshipped Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr. It was a recipe for non-stop hockey. 

To me, the long Edmonton winters meant shinny on tap at the corner rink. Sometimes there were only enough players for two-on-two, but there was always a game, always a sheet of ice shimmering with the promise of the perfect deke or a highlight-reel goal.

Every match began with the same cry: “Sticks in the middle!” If someone scored by lifting the puck off the ice, a chorus of disapproving voices would ring out: “Raise! No goal!” We cleaned the ice with metal scrapers that seemed to weigh more than a small car, and warmed our toes and fingers in the shack when they grew numb.

Between winters, hockey moved onto the streets and the driveways. Our garage door was permanently dotted with tennis-ball marks, like a Damien Hirst piece without the colour or the cachet.

I entered Grade 7 in 1979, the same year the Oilers joined the NHL, and their rise to Stanley Cup glory mirrored my own coming of age. I first picked up the Edmonton Journal to read the hockey coverage and spent years listening to games and analysis on CFRN radio. Rod Phillips and John Short were my only friends through teenage nights.

I left Edmonton in 1988, but hockey still tethers me to the city. Following the Oilers remains an article of faith. I keep a stick in my parents’ garage so I can play during visits. Though raised in England, my own children learned to skate and stickhandle on that same rink in Aspen Gardens.

I have played on ice for years in ramshackle arenas all over Britain, but my new focus is ball hockey. Every Monday night, Canadians gather to play in a gym near my house in London.

As soon as the whistle goes, and ball hits blade, a switch flicks inside my head. Suddenly, I am no longer a 40-something expat playing on borrowed time, thousands of miles from home. I am 15 and back in Edmonton, charging around as if the only thing that mattered in life is the next pass, the next goal, the next game of hockey.

Carl Honore grew up in southwest Edmonton and now lives in London, England. He has written three bestselling books, including In Praise of Slow and The Slow Fix, about the benefits of slowing down. When he becomes too slow to play hockey, he plans to take up golf. 

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