October 2, 1992 is the day that caused the greatest impact on my taste in sports. That was the day Disney released a little movie called The Mighty Ducks. Although we did not see it that day, we did make it to the theater opening weekend.
I do not recall wanting to see the movie that badly. All that I can remember clearly is that we thought it looked funny and it was released as a double feature with Captain Ron at one of the local theaters (I believe it was the one on Merle Hay which is now Nova). I know Captain Ron was something my mom wanted to see because she was a huge Kurt Russell fan. Two movies for the price of one was enough to convince my dad to take us.
TMD was not my first exposure to hockey. I had played thousands of games of Blades of Steel on the old school Nintendo, although it was more boxing than hockey. We had driven by Buccaneer Arena millions of times, but we never went inside. The 1991 NHL expansion to San Jose also caught my attention due to the Sharks' flashy colors. Still, I had pretty much no knowledge of hockey in the fall of 1992.
I was not sure what to expect of the movie, but was quickly drawn in by the characters because they were similar to me. Not only were they about the same age (Pee Wee hockey is 11-12 and I was 13), but they were notably nonathletic and out of shape for the most part. The fact that the movie was set in nearby Minnesota rather than New York, Boston, or Los Angeles made it even more relative. The team's star sharing my name was awesome. Emilio Estevez (Young Guns, YG 2, & Men at Work were some of my favorite movies then) as Coach Gordon Bombay was icing on the cake.
I left the theater hooked on hockey. I begged for ice skating and hockey lessons to no avail. I began to search the TV for it and caught as many games as I could. Despite early leanings towards San Jose, a favorite team began to emerge in the Detroit Redwings. My choice came from an unlikely source, Ferris Bueller's Day Off (still one of my all time Top 5). Cameron wears a Gordie Howe jersey throughout the film; I recognized the logo on the ice. The flashy play of the Russian Five soon cemented my love for the Wings.
Sometime between Christmas and Spring Break of my eighth grade year I got my first pair of inline skates and my first street hockey stick. The skates came from Walmart and were black with plastic straps and buckles instead of laces. They had teal wheels and buckles; the trim was purple. My stick was made by Franklin. It was a black wooden shaft with a purple plastic blade. I picked up a lefty and it just felt correct.
My brother and neighbors also got inline skates and street hockey sticks. Their dad made goals out of plumbing PVC pipe. Being on a flat dead-end street that was not connected to a high traffic route had its biggest advantage when we wanted to play. We could set the goals up in the middle of the road without worry. Games of 4 on 4 became regular occurrences for the next two years.
In high school I started acquiring NHL jerseys. My very first was a white Sharks replica. I bought it at Harrison's in Southridge mall (although it might have been Sports Page at that time). It was one of the early CCM replicas and was actually made by Sports Maska; the CCM logo was vinyl and eventually pealed off. My next jersey was a red Florida Panthers, also made by Sports Maska/CCM. Venture (now a Home Depot) carried CCM replicas for a while and a I picked up a blue Toronto jersey for almost half of what I paid for the other two. Throughout high school I continued buying jerseys. CCM began making their own with twill CCM logos sewn on just like the professionals. Starter also got into the jersey business and I bought many of their products. Oddly I did not have my first Redwings jersey until my junior year when my brother sent me one after moving to Detroit. By graduation my collection included: 2 Sharks (white & teal), Panthers (red), 2 Redwings (both white, one was a Fedorov jersey), Canadians (red), Toronto (blue), Capitals (blue), Stars (black), Sabres (black), Ducks (purple), Coyotes (white), Blackhawks (black), Lightning (black, dad bought in Tampa), and Avalanche (mom picked it up in Denver during the Western Conference Finals in 1996; probably why the Wings lost).*
We would all don our jerseys to play street hockey. Over time we switched from rollerblade wrist guards to Franklin and Mylec street hockey gloves. We all picked up inexpensive new Cooper helmets from Play It Again Sports; they were little more than a thin layer of compressed foam under an even thinner plastic shell, but they looked like real hockey helmets. I tore through the plastic blades like they were butter and upgraded to better quality skates.
As I earned money during my freshman year, I bought better equipment. I got some low end Easton gloves and a few Titan wood sticks. I sold my general purpose inline skates to buy Franklin roller hockey skates. Everything about them mirrored CCM ice hockey skates from the materials and colors to the design and laces. I also made new friends that were really into hockey and joined their self-made league.
I was put on the "Disgruntled Postal Workers," a team consisting mostly of juniors and seniors with a couple of younger brothers. Our jersey color was blue (I wore my Caps) and many guys managed to get a hold of US Postal Worker hats which they wore during the games (helmets were a no-no). Our goalie lacked a proper mask and I happened to have one that I picked up for our street games. It was red and patterned like the Canadians jersey; Patrick Roy's name and famous 33 decorated it. It was inexpensive and designed to withstand street hockey ball and roller puck impacts. But it looked almost exactly like his on-ice mask. After a few games the graphics were gone and we decided it needed to be redecorated. I painted it silver and the goalie added the post office's eagle logo to its sides and a red sunburst to the top. It was awesome.
As I was thin at this point, I was speedy and confident with the ball/puck. I loved playing left wing and was the top choice since I was one of the only lefties on the team. We had two "rinks." One was inside of a church; it had a combination gym/cafeteria with office-style thin carpet. The carpet provided an interesting texture and more ice hockey-like surface. It was slightly longer than a standard basketball court and was lined, so we had room to play behind the net and knew where the goal line and face off spot were. Best of all, the kitchen had two large serving windows which proved to be awesome benches for line changes. The other, which we utilized more, was the large and flat parking lot of a church on a side street.
Since most of the original Postal Workers graduated, we decided a rebrand was in order for my senior year. Adopting black and red as our new colors, we rechristened the team "The Bitchin' Buffaloes." Of course, I wore my fresh new Sabres jersey. I also started playing center more frequently as we lost both of ours.
Our goalie had also graduated and my brother volunteered to step in. Whereas I had lost weight he had gained, earning him the nickname "Pillsbury Doughboy." I bought him new Franklin street hockey goalie pads and new goalie mask. We originally intended to paint a giant bison on his mask, but that proved to be too hard. Instead we painted a giant silver Pillsbury doughboy with evil red eyes dubbed "Doughboy from Hell" and "hee, hee" was painted on the sides. Goalies were not required to wear skates, which suited him just fine.
Upfront, we were solid with juniors and seniors. Unfortunately, their forwards were also older and included a Junior Buc player. Doughboy was not as good as his rival for the rabid penguins, Twinkie. Twinkie was a sophomore at the time and sported a custom mask in maroon and gold. He was the first goalie that provided a real scoring challenge for me.**
I do not know for sure how long the roller hockey league lasted after I graduated. All I know for sure is that it was no longer then by the time my brother was a junior. After high school, my taste is sports would evolve once more...
Continue to Part 7
*My favorite senior pictures are in my Avs jersey. It just looks great on me in those pics; they are the only pics that really look like me. Since high school I added: Thrashers (white), 2 Redwings (red and a black RBK Chelios practice jersey), Sharks (newer teal), Iowa Stars (green first year), Iowa Chops (white), DM Bucs (red & blue, last year with old logo), USA (blue 1998 Olympics), ISU (white), and Minn Gophers (white). I still have and wear some of these jerseys in public. A few have been tossed into my hockey bag and others have gone to garage sales.
** Sadly Twinkie and the Junior Buc player died in a car accident a few years later. Both were really good guys.