The boy was nine – about to turn into a hockey player.
The minor leagues eluded him. The doctor told him ‘no sports’ until the ears were healed. What the physican meant was no team sports where competing meant an opportunity to get drilled by testosterone.
The swamp in front of his home was the training ground for an NHL career. The rink up the street – an opportunity to watch and learn while the older kids skated circles around him. The cold, a rite of passage …
The dark – haired boy begged his father for the missing pieces. The armor – the equipment required to arrive on the doorstep of the hockey hall of fame.
Citing wisdom, the Dad refused. “A boy grows fast”. He would say. ” Equipment such as elbow and shin pads do not. At the time of the doctor’s green light, the equipment will be bought …!”
Wistfully, with a heart as heavy as a puck in a jacket pocket – the lad continued his way down the frozen rink of adolescence.
The following week, once a long and dreadful day of school was completed; the prebuscent student discovered a package upon his neatly pressed sheets. A white plastic bag contained a treasure. Gifts to make a young hockey fan richer than his wildest dreams …
Placing the wrapping aside recklessly, the boy’s eyes widened at the sight of what his soft hands held. Like a beacon atop a stormy ocean, a brand new Montreal Canadiens sweater grew larger than life in his outstretched fingers.
His heart grew proud that day …
Along with the sweater, his sweater … a pair of Canadiens’ hockey socks matched his dreams with perfection. The sizes larger to fit his growing body for at least three years.
The first chance, the first non – school day, the boy pulled the same coloured socks that Maurice Richard wore onto his thin legs. The Jersey, the famous red, white and blue Jersey – came next. A Canadian Tire bought hockey sweater transformed into the very same one a certain Beliveau wore when netting his 500th goal.
The cereal went down quicker that morning. The voice of his Mom – a distant sound from a shore wintered by visions of frozen ponds.
Unlaced laces lagged behind like an old blind dog on a hunting trip as the boy raced through the doorway into frozen steps. The cold wind – blowing snow into his eyes and through to the vestibule built by men. People who may have played hockey as well; once upon a time …
The rink was filled, complete with all ages of fans. The original six, the Philadelphia Flyers – represented by boys, men and legacies. Some watched, others played. Most toyed with the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘could have beens’ that circled their brains like Gretzky on a powerplay.
The boy, quickly and erringly placed his skates to his feet with soft reckless abandon. Off came the jacket. The famous CH logo pointing the way. The red, white and blue socks matching the crest every step.
Combined with blue mittens, blue hand-me-down hockey pants and a Canadiens tuque; the boy fit nicely with the scrimmage taking place.
Standing by the net, discussing stragedy with teammates older than he – the boy looked into the distance.
It was too late.
A puck, a missile – a foot above the ice and travelling very fast, struck the soon-to-be ‘boy wonder’ in the shin.
Hard. Dead on.
Pain so intense – so lifelike, shot through him like a fiery stick piercing a marshmallow. Sweat, cold and dizzying – felled Guy Lafleur’s prodigal son as an ax would a six month old tree.
Clouds, the colour blue and faces black and white – focused their attention to the youngster as the ice became his new found bed.
Moms, Dads and ambulances were called. Blood replaced white ivory – coloured ice. Ice replaced blood – coloured socks. Shaking with shock, tears frozen in time, the adolescent continued his journey on broken dreams. Limb – shattered.
Operation. Cast. Holding back the energy of the rink, the passion and desire brought tears daily.
One day, one boring day when the mind wandered to dangerous places – a man woke the boy with a nudge. A poke check of reality. The man told of tales of the not so long ago past. A leg, a hockey playing leg, shattered not once – twice. At the cusp of stardom …
Hard work and devotion healed that man’s leg. Hard work and devotion healed that man’s soul. Enabling a career to start and finish with accolades beyond a boy’s biggest hopes. A happy ending to a story started in the grip of hell.
Three years later. A trilogy of seasons as a classroom. The boy, the swamp skater, the patient – the fan of the Canadiens de Montreal; represented his town at the highest level possible. He received a trophy. A symbol of dedication to hockey and perseverance.
As the years passed into adulthood, the boy whose shin was broken by the very thing he wished to spend his entire life chasing, wondered …
What would have happened to him if Serge Savard had not broken his leg?