Bold ones walked, others got rides, small bunches came on bikes. They all arrived at about the same time frame and from every corner. As they moved closer, faces became recognizable. Patterns and shapes began forming as they eventually formed a circle. Some came armed with only sticks while others added nets and round balls. Two of them, presumably the leaders, barked out names and orders. All sides were even. The event was taking place on an ordinary street. My street. It was time. They lined up accordingly, face to face. A ball was dropped and the game began. This was ball hockey.
Not just a game, ball hockey to a young Canadian boy was a way of life, a ritual to be played after school and on weekends. It was here you learned about the game, about sportsmanship and forgot everything else. Time meant nothing and nothing was more important than time.
Ten minutes, three hours, it was all the same, never enough. Only two things could make you think about stopping… a car and the Good Humour truck. Even then, you had to think about it. No one wanted to be the first to stop the game.
One of the most important ingredients of ball hockey was running. With the exception of the goalie, you ran and ran and ran until the time came when you were so tired you’d take a long shot from your own side of center and make it go just wide enough of the net to go down the street. This was the only other time you would stop. Everyone would look around to see if anyone else was going to get the ball. It was as if time would slow down for a moment. Only two real choices could be made for the retrieval of the ball – the shooter or the defenseman closest to it. On rare occasions when a stalemate of more than a minute and a half occurred, someone else who just wanted the game to continue would rescue the ball.
In the beginning (bob) before orange balls (the hard ones), tennis balls were used. These tennis balls were the best way for one to improve stick handling, passing and shooting. They were bouncier and harder to control. Concentration was at a high but the tennis ball, when shot wide, would go a very long way.
Goalies wore anything from regular goalie equipment, if they were lucky enough to play in an ice hockey league, to a regular hockey glove as a blocker on one hand and a baseball glove to catch on the other. The latter’s shin pads were usually a little too small for his frame. A chest protector was optional – a tinney (jock strap) was not.
Scores change drastically every game – 10-8, 10-7, 5-2 (a short game) and wins would usually trade back and forth between teams. Games would usually be decided by first team to score ten goals, unless of course, your mother came out of the house and barked out the one word you never wanted to hear… supper!