The Flying Pylons
A sparse crowd waited for the Zamboni machine to finish resurfacing the elegantly appointed Mike Karbonik Arena, situated on the eastern edge of Calmar (which is conveniently just a couple blocks from the western edge of Calmar). It would be overstatement to suggest anyone in the lobby was excited about the impending game, but it wasn’t resignation, either. It actually appeared they had gathered to discuss weather and the cute baby one lady had thoughtfully provided. I felt like I was trapped in a 3D version of Facebook.
Meanwhile, another fellow was slumped over, trying to catch a few zeds before game time. It was a typical Sunday evening crowd, for the local ladies hockey team known as The Flying Pylons. Still, by game time, against their rivals, The Devon Hockey Bags, there were about two dozen fans in the stands.
“Great crowd! In four years, I can only recall seeing two fans at any of my league games,” confessed one men’s league participant. Like many, he was there cheering on the wives and moms who had been there for their hockey-addicted kin. These hubbies and kiddies were now are paying back in the only currency that would count; time spent watching.
I noticed a number of differences between ladies teams and their beer league men’s hockey counterparts. For one thing, no men’s team I know of would be as self deprecating as these ladies were. A ‘pylon’, after all, is one of those orange traffic cones that coaches put on the ice to teach players how to move around obstacles. The phrase, “He skated around the defense like they were pylons,” is an old NHL colour commentator cliché. No male hockey team would insult themselves like that, other than maybe the Pittsburg Penguins. (Penguins are hardly known for being swift, nimble or particularly smart.)
Tall, pretty, Sam, my neighbour Cec’s daughter-in-law, plays for the Pylons. Sam is the Nylon Pylon, according to the name on the back of her jersey. The whole team has cute names like that, unlike any self-respecting men’s team. There were Pylons 1 and 2, Pylonella, Pylonetta, Dead On Pylon, Crash Pylon and tiny Big Dog Pylon; one of the team’s best players. Our friend, Shelby, is Rockin Pylon, I must add or be forever in her bad books.
Coincidentally, I had encountered Sam earlier that day. It was obvious she was stoked about playing because when discussing it, her face lit up like halogen high-beams. I almost got severe welder’s flash. (The Oilers could use some of that intensity.)
As I waited for game time, I thought about my own hockey career. It was a short recollection since my career lasted exactly twenty minutes. I was managing our college team while attending Grant MacEwan, and at season’s end we’d challenged the faculty to a tilt. Thanks in part to our stellar goalie, Maurice, we were up five to zip after two periods of play. During the second period break, Maurice calmly removed his equipment stating he wasn’t going back in nets. Period. I had to play in his place. The other players hooted at the prospect, verbalizing their approval with monosyllabic grunts, as hockey players do.
I donned the pads and pulled on the jersey the guys had chipped in to buy me, and was ready to fill my short hockey pants. I’d frequently played floor hockey and street hockey but never with skates on. My older brother, Ian, had played in a league once and got a stick to the face which discouraged my folks from encouraging any of the younger ones in that direction. I did make the chess team but it wasn’t quite the same.
I actually can skate… with conditions. Forward only. Not backwards or sideways. Apparently, these are valuable skills when tending goal. If you can’t go sideways, they just skate around the net and flip it in the far side, which gleeful faculty players did eight times. We lost eight to five and I vowed never to play the stupid game again.
Back with the Pylons, they’d just finished warming up. I looked down to type a few notes into my iPad and when I looked up, the Pylons were already ahead two to nothing. You couldn’t tell goals by the crowd noise since the crowd didn’t so much cheer as watch bemusedly. The quick two-goal lead surprised me as Sam claimed they’d never won a game. They considered it a victory if they kept the goals against under double-digits.
I noticed women’s hockey at this level is slower than men’s shinny. This is because, in men’s’ leagues, pretty much everyone can skate well. Some of the players on these ladies teams, on the other hand, appeared to be at the same level of skating expertise as I have. They’ve obviously never had the benefit of an organized system like young boys have in most places. In the Pylon playbook, the most used play, for example, was the unfortunate pass. In fact, it was rare to see two successful passes in a row. But they were obviously having fun.
After five minutes more of spirited play, the teams traded goals. The teams seemed fairly equal, at least. The crowd maintained their polite silence. I felt stupid holding up my ‘GO PILONS!’ sign, especially since, as the Pylons all pointed out, I’d misspelled ‘Pylons’. I asked one lady watching when we were supposed to do the wave. She just looked at me funny and slowly inched further down the bleachers.
Ultimately, the game ended 9 to 4 for the Hockey Bags after a third period surge. I knew, however, that after holding the Bags to a single digit score, the Pylons would be partying in the dressing room tonight. For these women, this, too, is hockey night in Canada.
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