The sign said Sugar Land Ice Arena and Sports Center and already there was a group finishing up a tailgater party as Dave G. and I circled slowly, looking for a parking space. We didn’t want to land too close to the action and be tempted into the fleshpots of ice-cold beer and foot-long sausages before our time on the ice had even begun.
“So this is your friend from Canada ?” Donnie, a Houston cop who had become interested in hockey in the early 1970s when Gordie Howe and his two sons put Houston on the hockey map with the newly-founded WHA, was sizing me up. Donnie had put away his firearms for the post-game barbeque and had armed himself only with a hotdog and a beer. “A Canadian on your hockey team… it’s like having a black guy on your basketball team.” No one had led me to believe that this southern hockey crowd would be of the politically-correct variety, so I was not surprised to hear the guffawing laughter. Actually, some of the hockey players in this tournament were imports from the Canadian kindred spirit of Texas…Alberta. I wondered if there were heated discussions in the Houston hockey dressing rooms over the merits of oil pipelines running through pristine wilderness. The American players were mostly all transplants from the 3-M collection of states: Michigan, Massachusetts and Minnesota.
It’s never been a traumatic experience for me to become accustomed to a new hockey dressing room and shinny in Houston proved to be no different. There had been a lot of New England Yankees at Bishop’s University and I had always appreciated their outgoing, boisterous and irreverent natures. A burnt-out buzzing sound signalled that the ice was ready for our upcoming tilt.
“Jeezus Murphy, even the buzzer for our games lacks testosterone,” remarked Rene, reminding me that our tournament was in the Over-50 age range. Rene was a horseman from Edmonton and he commuted between the racetracks of that city and Houston, managing and racing his stable of horses. He was missing all of his front teeth and I never got around to asking him if that was the result of a hockey stick or a horse’s hoof.
Luckily for me, I would not be stuck with Rene on my line anyway, as he skated like a lame gelding just before being sent to the glue factory. To be honest I probably didn’t look much better. The ice was showing the effects of its eight month shutdown due to off-ice insurance battles. I was having as little success getting the puck under control as I did with any other aspect of my life. “It’s like skating on the Rideau Canal after a thaw,” I remarked to my winger with the unlikely-sounding hockey name of Raoul, another Texas oil financier. He looked at me blankly, never having had the experience. We lost the first game by a goal, putting us behind the 8-Ball as far as moving onto the finals was concerned. So much for the Canadian ringer being brought to the southern hockey rinks. But, I comforted myself with the thought that not all was yet lost.
I had never lost my skill at handling beer and hot dogs, still being served in the parking lot.