Road hockey heroes

June 3, 2024

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from my next book — More Tales Of An Old Hockey Writer — which I plan on publishing later this year.)

The games were played after school. More games were played from morning to night on a given Saturday. Sunday games were played after church and until supper time. It didn’t matter how cold it was outside. It didn’t matter how dark it got. If you wore a toque and had a hockey stick, you were good to go.

We were the road hockey heroes of the 1960s. They were the days of the Original Six teams of the National Hockey League. Our heroes played for the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers.

We emulated our heroes. And thus we became heroes ourselves, at least in our own minds.

We were Jacques Plante and Charlie Hodge and Doug Harvey and J.C. Tremblay and Maurice (Rocket) Richard and Henri (Pocket Rocket) Richard and Jean Beliveau and Ralph Backstrom and Bobby Rousseau and Dick Duff and Yvan Cournoyer. We were Johnny Bower and Bobby Baun and Tim Horton and Frank Mahovlich and Davey Keon and Red Kelly and Eddie Shack. We were Terry Sawchuk and Bill Gadsby and Marcel Pronovost and Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio and Norm Ullman. We were Glenn Hall and Pierre Pilote and Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. We were Eddie Johnston and Leo Boivin and Johnny Bucyk and Murray Oliver. We were Gump Worsley and Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate and Camille Henry. 

But in reality, we were the Pyette brothers from the Buckley neighbourhood of Sault Ste. Marie. Or the Lortie brothers from that area. Or we were the Fortier brothers from around St. Ignatius elementary school in the Cathcart Street area. Or we were Claudio Hryniewicz, who had just emigrated from Argentina. Or we were Keith Lefave or Brent Tombari or Michael Cronin or Sammy Cristello or Jim Pastushak or Terry Miron or Michael Proulx from Maple Street and Pardee Avenue and Birch Street in the Wilcox Park area of the Sault. We are also Guy Fournier or Glen Stortini or Randy Kubik or Arthur Rebek or Marty Soltys or Dave Nocioli or David Vendramin or Robbie Delorenzi or any other hockey crazy kid who went to St. Mark elementary school in the east end of the Sault. And we were even Charly Murray — our very own, Glenholme Drive cement head — who was a goon even before the infamous Broad St. Bullies of the Philadelphia Flyers. 

I got to live the life of a road hockey hero in three neighbourhoods. And one was just as good as the other. Besides Maple Street and Retta Street/Glenholme Drive/Taber Street in the Sault, there was the alleyway between Howard Avenue and Lillian Avenue just off Erie Street in Windsor. Which is where I got to play road hockey with and against Eddie Mio. And Eddie not only went on to be a goalie for the junior A Windsor Spitfires and at Colorado College but he played in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings — and got to be the best man at Wayne Gretzky’s wedding.

I am not sure if the kids of today play road hockey. If they don’t, I am thinking that they are missing out on a lot. What I do know is that I have never met a kid in my age group who I grew up with and played road hockey with or against who ever said that they did not have a great time doing so. There was just something about road hockey games. Passion and innocence and just plain fun, all in the fresh air of winter. And such a love for the game we had. 

We even used to call the play by play of the road hockey games while we were playing. At least I did while pretending to be legendary play by play announcer Danny Gallivan. And it was while we were pretending to be any one of our NHL heroes. 

“Here come the Canadiens! Beliveau is on a breakaway! He shoots! He scores! Looks like the Maple Leafs are going to lose!” Or: “Howe to Delvecchio … back to Howe … Howe takes a look, drops it back to Delvecchio … he shoots, what a lucky save by Johnny Bower … rebound back to Howe, he rifles a wrist shot, he scores! Gordie Howe has given the Red Wings a 5-4 lead over the Maple Leafs and the crowd at Olympia Stadium in Detroit is going absolutely wild!” (I think I liked calling the play by play of the road hockey games as much as I liked playing. Even if I got to do both at the same time.)

Back then — in real time — for a kid like me who absolutely loved the Canadiens and Red Wings, beating the Maple Leafs was always the best feeling. Come to think of it, it still is. And there is a reason why I had such disdain for the Maple Leafs back then.

Growing up and watching Hockey Night In Canada with my dad, Fred, from the time I can remember, I learned from an early age that the Maple Leafs were persona non grata. It was the Canadiens, the Red Wings, the other three teams — and never, ever the Maple Leafs! Not even in road hockey!

Road hockey jerseys? Canadiens and Red Wings were at the top of the list. And if any kid wore a Black Hawks or a Bruins or a Rangers jersey for a road hockey game, it was okay among those of us who faced off, stick handled and made saves on the gritty streets of the Sault and Windsor. As long as you weren’t wearing a Maple Leafs sweater, you were okay. I think that was the only rule. 

At any rate, sorry if I offended any Maple Leaf fans out there. I actually try to cheer for them from time to time. I really do. But it always goes back to the formative years, watching Hockey Night In Canada with my dad and playing road hockey with the street urchins of Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor.

There were plenty of kids wearing Montreal and Detroit jerseys. Toronto jerseys? Nah. They weren’t allowed.

What you think about “Road hockey heroes”

  1. Great article with great memories Randy. One little bump into the snowbank as I mistakened you as some one’s spare stick and now labelled a cement head. No penalty was called on the play. 🤔🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🏒🥅

  2. Great article. I remember playing so much road hockey as a kid. We always had so much fun as kids and was always different ages coming together for the love of the game. I remember having to work off a busted headlight on my neighbours car from (what felt like) was a blistering slap shot with a hockey ball. For sure a missed sight now a days and the odd time I see it it brings back memories.

  3. Late to respond. Great article and looking forward to Book #2.
    Road hockey and playing on the outdoor rinks (Anna McCrea/Central Park) were the best times growing up

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