The Life and Times of a Suburban Nobody – Errant Slapshots

Every once in a while, my girlfriend asks me to tell her a story…something interesting or funny that happened when I was younger or just something that she might find entertaining.  Most of the time, I tell her a story that leaves her with a completely blank look on her face and then I wonder just how long it is going to take before she walks out the door never to return.  But sometimes, I manage to actually keep her engaged in the story and most of the time it seems that this happens when I am telling her stories about growing up in Brampton.  I call these stories the Life and Times of a Suburban Nobody.

I grew up like most kids in Canada – playing street hockey throughout the year.  It didn’t matter if it was -20C or 20C, we were out in the driveway denting the ubiquitous sheet metal garage doors of the GTA.  We challenged our parents when they told us not to use pucks in the driveway, figuring if we just hit the net, nobody had to worry about anything.  We didn’t realize the flaws in our line of thinking; that we missed the net a lot of the time and that when we did hit the net, the twine was so cheap, the puck would fly right through the mesh and dent the garage door anyway.  The hockey gods were definitely against us in those days.

Being the youngest of three with the other siblings being sisters, I couldn’t always count on having a partner for road hockey.  There were days where we would have a bunch of guys out playing together on the street, but detentions and punishments being what they were (back in the 80s when parents actually disciplined their kids and when being kept inside was actually a punishment) sometimes you just had to have a “passing play” or breakaway session in the driveway.  It was either you against the goalie or you and your teammate setting up the perfect Gretzky-Kurri passing play against the imaginary goalie (and I had to go along with the Oilers theme, even though I was a Habs fan wearing a Denis Potvin Islanders jersey…and later a Maple Leafs Rick Vaive jersey!!! My parents tested my resolve early in life).  So while my sisters did a pretty good job of stepping in to play with me, I had to also rely on my friends…one in particular who ended up making it to the NHL.

I was a good kid, but every once in a while I ended up in a bit of trouble.  I liked to push the boundaries.  So even though my parents didn’t want me to use a puck in the driveway, what they really meant was not to use anything that was really hard in the driveway that would dent the garage door.  In the middle of winter, this clearly meant that using a “street ball” was out of the question.  But since the street ball had not been explicitly eliminated from the list of things I could use in the driveway, an orange streak cut through the bitter cold air seeking the top corner just about every night after school.

In case you don’t know what a street ball is, it’s a hard plastic ball that doesn’t really bounce when it isn’t frozen and when it is, it bounces about as much as a rock does.  Just to make sure that you have enough time to get out of the way of one of these street rocks once they are airborne, they’re coloured street pylon orange.  To put it quite simply, they’re dangerous.  The fact that these devices don’t kill thousands of Canadian kids each year is beyond me.  The combination of playing with these orange steel balls in the middle of icy streets with 1980s pre-traction control American steel cars rumbling down them was a recipe for disaster and yet there was hardly ever any blood spilled.  Amazing.

My friend and I loved setting each other up for one-timers in the driveway.  We’d set up a nice slow roller across the driveway and then the other guy would fire a slapshot as hard as he could, hoping that it would catch the top corner.  We were doing this one day as my mum was out shopping, giving us opportunity to miss the net as often as we liked, hearing that classic BOOM when the street ball would hit the garage door.  We were having a blast, sometimes hitting the net (cheers), sometimes denting the garage with accompanying sound effects (BOOM…and cheers), but when we heard the old Chevy Nova come around the corner, we made sure we slid the net out of the way  so my mum could park in the garage.

My mum got out and greeted us, hoping that we would help with the groceries, but we could tell by the look on her face that she knew we were in the middle of something important and that carrying groceries into the house just wasn’t something that was going to break things up.  So as the garage door remained open, we just worked on dekes and doing keep ups with the ball.  We would occasionally take some shots, but only half heartedly as we didn’t want to miss and hit the car.  Denting a metal garage door is one thing, but denting a Chevy Nova (that was very similar in colour to the garage door) was another.

As my mum continued to unload what must have been the biggest Dominion shopping spree ever, we started to take harder shots on the net, but from close range so as not to miss and hit the car.  We had all of this energy that was bubbling inside us and the longer the groceries took to get out of the trunk, the more this energy had to be released through the hard orange plastic.  We fired slapshot after slapshot into the net, giving my mum that look that said, “Come on, would you please get this over with before the street lights come on?”

Being the 80s, my mum was wearing Sergio Valente jeans.  These jeans were being worn by all of the women at the time – dark wash and tight.  She capped it off with a plum leather jacket and for some reason I remember a beret being in the mix, but that might just be my imagination.  What I do remember quite clearly is the sound that a hard orange plastic street ball makes when it hits a woman’s ass in a pair of Sergio Valente jeans.  When a street ball hits a metal garage, there is a definite BOOM that echoes and is recognized by kids throughout the neighbourhood…it’s almost like a call of the wild.  You hear that sound and know somebody is playing, so you run over to see what’s up.  But this sound was different.  The crack of plastic hitting my mum’s butt ripped through the air, signaling what I thought was the end of my childhood.  I felt fear creeping up my leg and heading straight to my heart.  My feet were frozen to the ground.

The whole thing seemed to happen in slow motion.  My friend slid me a one-timer, I wound up and put every bit of power I had into that Koho stick and rifled what looked to be a top corner shot, but the ball just started to tail.  It was like a little orange planet that was just orbiting some other planet…being pulled in to a path that was beyond its control.  I wanted to stop time so I could run in front of the ball and take the hit, but CRACK!  It was too late.

I looked at my friend, hoping that I would have some support, but as sure as the stick dropped from my hand and my jaw hung open, my friend said “See ya” and booked it across the street.  It was just me, my mum, fear and anger.  My mum let out a pretty good yelp, which was followed by my each of my given names, but miraculously, I didn’t get a spanking for it.  I received a stern talking to, but I guess there were still some groceries to be put away, so in the end, the thing that had really caused the errant shot to happen also saved me from having my own ass cracked.

I thought about giving hockey a break for a few days just to make sure that my mum wasn’t reminded of what happened, but I figured the bruise she had was probably already doing that.  So the next day, we were back out there, pretending we were NHL forwards.  The next time my mum came home with groceries, I helped…and my friend got across the street before the Chevy Nova even made it to the driveway.

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