My wife looked at me and shook her head, her disdain hidden by a wry smile. “Go ahead,” she said. But I could tell in her tone that what she really wanted to say was, “Go ahead, you freaking lunatic, while I stay home and try to figure out how I managed to marry a little boy trapped in a man’s body.”
So like any good husband, I did what my wife said. I went.
Within three hours I was standing in the Uhaul parking lot. When the Uhaul guy asked me why I needed a 15′ trailer at 5pm on a Tuesday, I explained my mission. The look on his face made me wonder if he had gone to school with my wife. They must have taken ‘What The Hell 101’ together.
We towed the trailer south, the ‘we’ comprised of myself and my dad, the mostly-willing wingman for most of my ridiculous ideas. Sometimes he shares in my enthusiasm. More often, he sees the enthusiasm in me and comes along for moral support and needed muscle because that’s what dads do. This particular night he was the latter.
We arrived at our destination a couple hours before dark. We ambled around the beautiful property until we saw our prizes nestled under a cloak of tarp and pine needles.
“Are we really doing this?” I asked nobody in particular.
“Shut up and grab that end, it’s getting dark,” said the wingman.
And so we lugged, and heaved, and pushed, and swore, and pulled, and strapped. It wasn’t until we were back on the road headed north that I looked back, snapped a picture with my phone, and realized how absurdly awesome this all was.
I owned real hockey boards.
I never really intended to own real hockey boards. But if you believe in cosmic alignment and fate and all that, then you’ll believe me when I say that the boards found me. After all, it was June, hardly a season for backyard rinks. And hardly a season to be checking the backyard rink mailing list. But I did. And amid the posts about summer plans and lighting, there was a post from a guy named Dave McKenna. The subject told me what I’d be doing that night:
“Hockey Boards from Chelmsford Forum…Free”
They were located 45 minutes from my house – I could be there by dinner. I forwarded the email to my wife, then met her in our work cafeteria for visual confirmation of her approval. Working for the same company has some odd benefits. Ignoring the head-shaking and laughter, approval was granted.
There were some logistical concerns, but I ignored most of them. I mean, I was picking up FREAKING HOCKEY BOARDS. 45 minutes away. For free. The logistics could be figured out later – I had to have those boards in my possession.
As we drove to Middleton, we talked about the people who had probably ripped shots off these boards or buried opposing players into them. The Chelmsford Forum, at least when I was growing up, was better known as the Tully Forum, home of the University of Massachusetts – Lowell hockey team. Lowell played their last game at Tully in 1998, but even still, we easily rattled off a dozen names of players who had probably touched these boards. Paul Kariya (Maine), Chris Drury (Boston University), Hal Gill (Providence), Jay Pandolfo (Boston University), Brian Gionta (Boston College), Brian Leetch (Boston College), Kevin Stevens (Boston College), Tony Amonte (Boston University), Keith Tkachuk (Boston University), Craig Janney (Boston College), Marty St. Louis (University of Vermont), Bill Guerin (Boston College). There are some Hall of Fame names in that bunch, and now a tiny piece of their hockey history would exist in my backyard.
But the fact that gobs of current and former pros played within these very boards was only part of the allure. That’s because I left one name off the list of players above: my own. For a large portion of my youth hockey days, I spent at least one day a week at Tulley playing for my local travel team. In 1993, I played a full season in the Metro Boston Hockey League for the then-named Lowell Jr. Chiefs, and I probably spent more time at Tulley that year than I did in my bedroom. It was a difficult season for me, playing with new kids in a highly-competitive league, but I grew as a player and formed some great memories there. It’s funny: of all the rinks in New England, I managed to score the ones I probably spent the most time leaning on as a kid. And now a memento of all those years is sitting under my deck, ready to absorb wrist shots and bodychecks from a new generation of wide-eyed, wobbly-ankled hockey stars.
This may seem ridiculous. Here I am, devoting thirteen-hundred words to a pile of decades-old wood, steel, and plastic, talking about them like cherished family heirlooms. But it turns out I’m not alone – at least among the backyard rink crowd.
Remember Dave McKenna, the guy who gave away the boards on the backyard rink mailing list? He has a bit of an affinity for these things as well. His rink, a fully-boarded 80×53-foot beauty, came to be from a series of chance board encounters. His first set came from Valley Sports Arena, which had scheduled a rink teardown on a Monday in April 2009. Problem was, Dave had won a quartet of Red Sox Opening Day tickets as part of a Jack Falla Fund event, and the game and rink teardown were slated to take place at the same time. But along came cosmic alignment and fate (dressed as a BU professor, perhaps?), and the Sox game was rained out. Dave’s board collection had begun. Later in the summer of 2009, Dave took a different way to work one morning, passing by the rear of the Chelmsford Forum. The glare of sun-on-white-plastic caught his eye. With approval from the job foreman inside the rehabbing rink, Dave added to his collection. The UMass Mullins Center was the donor for his next set, with his final batch coming on behalf of the Burlington Ice Palace. The last acquisition gave him more than enough for his backyard haven, making the Tulley/Chelmsford boards expendable. I’ve never been so happy that someone I hardly know took a different route to work.
While we were driving home with the boards in tow, I uploaded the grainy, blurry picture I had taken with my phone onto my personal Facebook account. “Just another day in our life”, I captioned. As people commented with guesses on what the pile of junk in the trailer was, my good friend and fellow rinkbuilder Scott Millin recognized them right away. He commented: “You are taking a piece of Chelmsford home with you. [My son] Danny leaned on those when taking his first strides in skates. Treat them well, and be sure the snowthrower clears the top of ’em.”
I think about the future a lot, and marvel about how terrifyingly short my son’s childhood is. Before long, his generation will run off to do whatever it is that they do when it’s no longer cool to hang out with your parents, on a backyard rink or otherwise. The boards will be stacked neatly under the deck – maybe forever, or maybe awaiting a new batch of prospects from the genealogy draft. The puck marks and dents and warped kickplates will tell the stories of Hockey East games, of Metro Boston practices, of Chelmsford Youth Hockey Learn-to-Skates. And now, because of cosmic alignment, fate, Dave McKenna, my dad, and a Uhaul trailer, they’ll be able to tell our story, and the stories of everyone else who will learn to trust their edges in our backyard.
If they could only talk.