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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick


My Lost NHL Career
By Barry L. Hatt

   It is an awful feeling to suddenly realize that you are never going to make it to the NHL. I know, I've been there.

   Back in the early 1960's in Lower L'Etang , winter meant hockey. There were only 6 teams and most boys knew all the players. Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens were the favourites, although there were always some who liked the other teams: Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins or the New York Rangers. That was it, 6 teams.

   I was a Toronto Maple Leaf fan, still am, and like most boys, dreamt of playing in the NHL. The only problem was that L'Etang didn't have a real rink. Our rinks were where we could find them.

   You have got to realize that L'Etang was not only a rural community but also spread out over quite an area. To play hockey you invariably had to walk quite a ways to find an area that had iced over sufficient enough to act as a rink. Most years it was in Bev Leavitts front field. There was usually a place where water collected and with a December rain, quickly froze.

   There might be a snowy place somewhere in the middle that you had to look out for, but that made the game more interesting. The puck might get stuck and you would lose it or it could slide through to Dave Keon who was streaking in on goal on the other side of the snow. I was always Frank Mahovlich, he was my favourite player and I tried to do him justice.

   It didn't matter what shape the rink was in. At times it could be long and thin, or patchy and 'v' shaped. The main things were that there was ice and that you had a pair of skates and a hockey stick. Padding of the proper kind didn't really matter although a puck in the shins didn't feel that good. As long as there was ice and a few of the guys to have a game we were all set.

   Then one year it happened. The weather was terrible and snow came early before there was any ice to speak of. I was about 13 at the time. We took a long cold walk to the Lime Kiln because there had been good ice there the year before. We even took shovels with us to clear a patch of ice, but there wasn't any. Old stocks of dead cattails stuck up through the snow. It was a longer and colder walk home. Bevs' front field didn't have even a small drop of ice on it to clean off. We thought that there was a chance when we found ice in the culvert beside the Borthwicks but it was surface ice with nothing below it. I sunk up to my knees in the water and mud.

   As winter wore on with its frequent storms and the snow got deeper and deeper it soon became evident that hockey just wasn't going to be an option. Oh sure there were other interesting things to do. L'Etang has numerous coves and inlets and because of the high tides in the Bay of Fundy the mud flats and slow rising water usually froze over to cause ice flows. But you couldn't skate on salt water ice.

   There were times that the entire cove would freeze over. When the tide would rise the ice would break up into smaller icebergs. One great pastime was to run around on the icebergs when the tide came up. You had to be careful not to step on one too small because they would sink and you would quickly have to jump to another one before you went under. I know, I know, our mothers would have been horrified if they knew what we were doing. A good sound tanning would probably have been the order of the day, but we didn't lose anyone. It was close once when Johnny missed a jump and went under but he was grabbed and pulled up. We got him to a house that was close and no great damage was done. After all a fellow had to have something to do.

   It wasn't until well after Christmas that I figured out that because there was no ice to skate on, I probably wasn't going to make the NHL. After all, to get better you had to be able to practice. It came as a shock though when I figured out that my NHL career was over before it had begun. I'm not sure that I ever got over it. I'm still trying to figure out what I should be doing.

Barry Hatt lives in Dumfries. You may contact him through his e-mail address which is blhatt@rogers.com

THE END

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