A Friend of the Hockey Court

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Mark Mainz / Getty

Kevin Smith

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But if none of that awakens a hankering for hookin' in 'em, sell it the American way: tell folks that in hockey, there's always a chance someone will wind up looking like a jackass. Or more specifically, tell them there's a chance I'm gonna wind up looking like a jackass ... and they can come see it for themselves!

Every year, Walter Gretzky (Wayne's dad) hosts a street hockey tournament in his hometown of Brantford, Ontario. After learning about it, I mused about the idea of playing in the tourney, in a podcast and on the message board at my website. All of a sudden, other dudes like me — old, out-of-shape, unathletic, with more body fat than bone — started dreaming they, too, could forecheck it up the slot and slap themselves some middle-aged glory one last time ... in the hometown of the Great One, no less!

So, 15 years after the last time I strapped on goalie pads and stood in the net, I'm gonna pull on my mask again and play some honest-to-goodness ball shinny (which sounds sexier than it is). I'm bringing a team (and I use the term loosely), and additionally, I offered to sponsor three more teams — the slots for which filled up instantly. We've got players coming from Canada and the States, sure, but that's nothing compared to one of our team captains who's flying in from New Zealand expressly to play in the tourney.

That's the passion hockey inspires. I haven't net-minded in 15 years, and lemme tell ya, I wasn't good then. Now I'm just praying that whatever I lack in Brodeur-like brilliance and Luongo-level dexterity I can make up for in sheer width and mass in goal. God willing, my child-bearing hips stretch pipe to pipe — because Sunday afternoon, the aging oldsters of Puck U (my team) will play the winning club from the tournament's teenage division. If the mallrats can beat us, we're going to donate $10,000 to Brantford Youth Athletics at game's end. (If they can't beat us, their citizenship and street cred as electric youth should be revoked.)

They say Gretzky can't be replaced, but I say let's try. The game (hell, the world) needs more Wayne Gretzkys. The last one came out of Brantford; maybe the money raised at Wally's street-hockey fundraiser will allow some kid who couldn't afford a stick or a net to finally get one. And maybe one day, the town produces another humble genius who, against all conventional wisdom, dominates the game (and our hearts) all over again.

Hockey's on the verge of something. It's not this year, and it may not be next, but the game's renaissance era is just around the corner. You watch. It's in the air. You can feel it. Hockey's about to come back up out of the cellar and crash the net of multicultural awareness for the first time since the heady days of the dynasties. And then? Even the hardest of hearts will find something to love about a game that gives back to the spectator far more than it ever asks.

Unless the Devils collapse. Then I'm off this stupid game ... till next season.

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