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A Boy Playing Pond Hockey

Ducks GM Michael Stafford with another piece on his youth, harking back to a time when a frozen pond meant a day's worth of fun, and learning.

When I was young, your choice of sports you liked and played depended in what neighborhood of Ossining, New York you lived in.

Downtown kids played basketball all year round because they lived near the Rec. Center. Kids near the high school played football most of the year and used their football field. Crotonville kids played ice hockey when the Croton River froze over or roller hockey under the pavilion at Gerlach Park.

In my neighborhood of Park Avenue, we played baseball, baseball, and more baseball, morning to night during the summer and after school till the streetlights came on. We played on a triangular field which made center field the shortest distance from home plate.

The outfield fence was lined with giant oak trees that often-kept balls from being home runs. There were roads down both the right and left field lines. Anything hit in the road was an automatic out, so we all learned how to hit up the middle.

At 12-years-old, my family moved to the Maryknoll area of town. No playing fields and no basketball courts. Just a neighborhood of houses built on hills and around a pond where I learned to fish.

Then winter arrived and the hills piled up with snow and the pond froze over. Sleigh riding was the best. One day my neighbor Ricky knocked the door and told me we were playing pond hockey.

I never played hockey in my life and didn’t even own skates. He lent me figure skates, which embarrassed me a bit but at least I could accelerate because skating with figure skates was a bit like running. I could only go forward and stopping was train wreck. By the end of the game I was exhausted and bruised.

That night, I begged my father for hockey skates and a stick. After dinner he took me to Laura-Lee Sports where I was fitted with Bauer skates and a stick.

In every other sport I was right-handed but in hockey I was left. Never figured out why.

The next morning, Ricky and I were the first at the pond for the daily game. It snowed overnight so the ice was covered with three inches of fresh snow. Ricky and I grabbed a couple of snow shovels and acted like Zamboni machines until the ice was clear.

When the others arrived, the game went on for most of the morning until we were called for lunch. The score? Nobody knew. We just had fun.

By the end of my first winter in my new neighborhood, I was able to skate fairly well forward and backward. Maintaining a hockey pond requires a lot of effort, but it’s a worthwhile effort.

There is no better way to start the day than to have the pond to yourself and a friend for a half hour of skating, shooting, and stickhandling. Then, to have a bunch of friends over to play some Pond Hockey.

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