The Father, the Son and the Holy Grail


The following story was published last year . I have been fortunate to gain many followers on this site so I decided to re – print this story to start the new year !
Please enjoy …!

Every Saturday night after a home cooked meal, my Dad and I would settle down on the floor in front of the television set and get ready to watch Hockey Night in Canada.

Saturday was our day.

David Henry Keene – my Dad , owned a transport company and long hours prevented him from spending much time with me during the week. Somehow, he managed to find the time on the first day of the weekend as the two of us left the house just before noon and spent the day shopping. We shopped for guy stuff, we shopped for food and we always stopped somewhere ‘cool’ and had an afternoon snack or a drink.

Sometimes my Mom would come,  even if she did – my Dad and I always found ourselves alone at one point. I do not recall any conversations we had but to a young boy , being with Dad was the most amazing thing in the world and it did not matter what was said or where we were. I was with my Dad and I was proud.

Saturday Night

As the familiar theme from Hockey Night in Canada exited the speakers from our ‘state of the art ‘Hitachi console television, my heart would speed up because I knew that in mere minutes I would be seeing my Montreal Canadiens take to the ice and – more times then not – beat the opposing team. My Dad was not a Canadiens fan. He was not a fan of any particular team, he was a fan of any team that was playing against Les Habitants. The two of us would argue constantly over the course of a game, all the while our bodies as one as my head lay upon his chest.

“Beliveau and the Pocket Rocket were the greatest!” I would tell him as he countered with “Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr” on a night the Habs were playing the Big Bad Bruins.” No better goalie than Rogie Vachon.”  I would say countering my Dad’s ‘”Tony Esposito” as the Black Hawks attempted to beat my team.

The year was 1970, I was five years old and growing up. Maturing along with Les Canadiens as Dryden, Robinson,Shutt and Lafleur were emerging as stars. Others such as Savard, Lapointe and Lemaire were entering their prime. As the team ended a brief Bruins’ dynasty and traded cups with Chicago, my Dad was not around as much. He was battling heart problems. More times than not , I found myself alone in front of the television observing the on-ice exploits of  the ‘Big Three’ and the amazing performances of Lafleur, Cournoyer, Pete Mahovolich and the wise Henri Richard. It wasn’t the same without my Dad.

Bobby Orr Plays The Habs

I was not allowed to play ice hockey due to the operations I had on my ears so I studied the game like a scientist. Every Wednesday and Saturday night,I was glued to the television observing arguably the greatest hockey team to ever play. Savard’s Spinerama, Robinson’s combination of grace and toughness, Lemaire’s uncanny playmaking ability and Guy Lafleur with his speed, shot and unexplainable feints.When I discovered that not only did I share the same hometown as Jacques Lemaire, but the same birthday – there was not a person in LaSalle, Quebec that was not aware of that particular fact.

During those years, every boy played street hockey. It didn’t matter if it was Summer, Spring, Fall or Winter. It did not matter if you were French or English – skinny or fat. Les Canadiens were the glue that connected everyone. Kids, teenagers and parents took to the ice or pavement and for the next few hours – became Guy Lafleur, Doug Risebrough or Murray Wilson. It was rare to see anyone sporting the blue and white of the Maple Leafs or the Red and White of the Detroit Red Wings. Everyone respected the likes of Gordie Howe, Stan Mikita and Jean Ratelle. They somehow did not have the mystique the players who suited up for the Montreal Canadiens had – they were ‘human’.

If you took the frozen tennis ball on a street-long rush you were The Flower. If you made a save with your baseball glove you were no longer Rick Keene, you now became Ken Dryden or on occasion Michel ‘Bunny’ Larocque. The game would start at 9 a.m. and, aside for two half-hour breaks for unimportant things like lunch or supper, the games would continue into the night. The game and the day would end with one player practising a wrist shot in between two large rocks that transformed into goalposts for a day.

Sad Times

Just as the Habs were beginning their journey into hockey history with a first of four consecutive Stanley Cups, my Dad succumbed to a third heart attack bringing an inevitable double bypass operation to help prolong his life and in return, a longer relationship with me. The operation was successful and more importantly to me – my Dad was home all the time while recuperating. It was at this time, upon completion of a third operation on my ears, I discovered that I was allowed to play organized hockey come Fall.My Dad and I went on a shopping trip to the local sports store. I was equipped form head to toe with all the tools I needed to become the next superstar of the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m sure many people were surprised to see a 10-year-old boy walking around in mid – July wearing a full Canadiens uniform. To me it did not matter. Much  to the chagrin of my Mom and Dad. For the first couple of weeks I ate in that uniform, slept in that uniform and – aside from the problems of re-positioning my jockstrap when I went to the bathroom – I adored that uniform. I could not wait for September. It was my birthday on the seventh, the 20th was my very first hockey practice, the Canadiens were taking to the ice once more and my Dad was alive and healthy. School was the only negative, but with everything else being so exciting – it appeared as a minor detail.

Two weeks after school started, one week after my birthday and a few days before my first hockey practice – my Dad passed away from a massive heart attack.

 He would never get to see me play hockey.

A Hockey Career is Born

I would be lying if I said that I remembered that first practice or for that matter the second or the third. I do recall being much better than I thought and much worse than I was. Alfie Snow was my first coach and he was aware of the recent passing of my Dad. He became an ally in what all of a sudden became an angry and confusing time for me. He taught me how to skate, shoot and pass in a fashion that seemed less fatherly and more friendly to me. The other men in my life seemed destined to replace my Dad which only infuriated me and instilled a rebellious reaction. Mr. Snow helped me to become a better hockey player and a better person.

Hockey was my escape and I was good at it. Whatever foibles I had physically, I made up for mentally as all those years of studying the game on TV paid profound dividends. I had a feel for the game – a third eye for the flow and ebb of a sport that was beautiful to me. Every time I would skate onto the freshly done ice, I became a paintbrush and this was my canvas. Every shift and every game was different yet somehow the same. Fifty people in the stands were more like a thousand in my mind as every play became as important as a Stanley Cup winner. It was during this time that I met my best friend, my goalie, and the brother I never had Denis Boyer.

Rick Keene – 15 yrs Old
The first few practices and games we did not speak much but I noticed a kinship, a familiarity as we shared the same humor and a passion for the game that threw us together. I was a defenceman which only helped us to bond and he was a Philadelphia Flyers fan which helped us to compete. After every game, all of us would go to the snack bar to get a soft drink, a chocolate bar and to talk about our game, practice or just hockey in general. It was there, in line one day, that Denis and I consummated  our friendship.

An attractive teenage girl worked at the snack-bar and she happened to be blessed with a healthy ‘set of lungs’. As Denis and I approached , I mentioned to Denis the attractiveness of the girl and her ‘two’ friends. Denis turned to me and said “Hey – that’s my sister!” After determining that he was not joking I replied. “Can I sleep at your place tonight?” His affirmative answer was the cornerstone of a lifelong friendship that began at age 12 and remains to this day.

Denis and the Snackbar Chick

Denis and I grew up with hockey being the common denominator. We played hockey… we went through puberty. We played hockey…  we lost our virginity. We played hockey… we drank beer and on it went.

One season, with Denis as my goaltender , we went 23 games without a loss in a 25-game schedule. We tied the 24th game 2-2 and were one and a half minutes away from tying our final game thus enjoying an almost perfect season. There was a scramble  around the crease and the puck slipped from underneath Denis and was heading towards the goal line. I dove to knock the puck away as did Denis and the two of us found each other nose to nose on the line with Denis’ glove stopping the puck  as it began its journey into the net. The referee blew the whistle and Denis and I looked at each with an expression of relief knowing that our unbeaten season was still intact. It was then we noticed the players from the other team celebrating with their sticks in air. The ref called it a goal. We both charged the referee and argued to the point of receiving a match penalty. Upon realization that the goal was going to stand, we both returned to the crease area and started to cry. Two 16-year-old boys leaning on opposite posts – despondent over one loss in 25 games. Two boys on an entire team filled with boys who were not crying…two boys who shared a passion that went beyond a game that would eventually become their only loss of a winning season.

Real Life

Off the ice we had different lives. He had an in-ground pool in his backyard… I went to a public pool across the street. He was able to use his parents car … I bought my first car. Denis had everything that kids in his situation had, while my Mom and I got along well enough but I lacked some of the ‘luxuries’ that kids like Denis had.

The one thing I envied Denis for the most was the fact that he had a Dad.

 Denis and Gilles Boyer

When I would go over to their house for sleepovers and such, I would marvel and observe Mr. Boyer as he sat at the table during supper or as I watched him work around the house. Mr.Boyer and I never spoke much, no one-on-one interactions – no fatherly advice from him to me. On occasion , he would say things to me that I am sure in his own way were meant to be words of wisdom from a man to a teenage boy.

One day,  Denis and I encountered Mr. Boyer and his wife at the shopping center. It was the late 1970s and the style for ‘cool’ teenage boys was long hair, jeans and rock t-shirts. Denis and I were alike and we both had hair just past our shoulders. As we encountered Denis’ parents, I said hello at which point Mr. Boyer looked into my eyes and said; “Get a haircut – you f***ing bum!” I was stunned! It took me a few minutes to gather myself ,and when I did  I replied. “Hey – what about your son? He has long hair.” Mr. Boyer looked at me and said. “He’s my son…”

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from Mr. Boyer came a few months later…

It was mid-season and as usual, Denis was the goaltender on my team and we were cruising through a successful season and heading to the Christmas break. We were all excited on the team because after New Years, we were embarking on a trip to Philadelphia to play hockey against American teams. Denis and I talked about it all season and Denis was particularly excited because the Flyers were his favorite team and part of our schedule included a Flyers game and practice.

Sometime after Christmas – Denis and another  friend of ours  ended up in trouble with the law. Their crime was serious and Mr. Boyer was none to pleased and punishment was handed down. Denis had to remain in the house every weekend and after school. He was allowed to play hockey, but had to go straight home afterward. Mr. Boyer would not allow his son to go to Philadelphia, however. Denis pleaded, our coach pleaded and I am sure that others , including Mrs. Boyer pleaded since Moms tend to be softer than Dads. Mr. Boyer did not budge on his decision so off we went without our goalie and my friend – Denis.

Gilles Boyer passed away a few weeks ago after a battle with cancer. If I would have had the chance to say goodbye – I would have thanked him for being a Dad to me even though he never tried to be.

Somewhere in Heaven – I would like to believe My Dad and Denis’ Dad have become friends and when the two men met – I hope my Dad thanked Mr. Boyer for telling me to get a haircut!

Rest in peace Mr. Boyer – and thank you for giving me a lifelong friend who is a so-so goalie.

David Keene's Grandchildren

Gilles Boyer's Grandchildren

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks Rick, still brings a few tears to my eyes xox

    Reply
  2. tomcat

     /  January 13, 2012

    Blog video :
    [b]http://goo.gl/INVbP
    [/b]

    Reply

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