“The truth is with fickle winter weather and a lack of hockey tradition, real Maryland pond players are as far apart as Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin’s front teeth,” observes Candus Thomson, in her gorgeously written January 30 Baltimore Sun feature on Maryland’s dedicated shinny skaters.
We about the region in touques and hockey sweaters praying for low winter temps possess a special devotion and, irrespective of our age, a child-like zeal for seizing the fleeting frozen conditions on local ponds and collections basins, Thomson discovers in her piece.
“The pond hockey season below the Mason-Dixon line can have the lifespan of a mayfly, so [shinny skaters] embrace the moment with all the energy of an end-to-end rush,” she notes.
“This is hockey as nature intended: pure, uncomplicated, joyous. No one complains about having to shovel the surface clear of snow or when slush soaks sweatpants as a skidding puck throws up a rooster tail of spray. Backpacks and winter boots mark goals and everyone is a referee.”
In her survey of solidly frozen local water bodies patronized by outdoor puck lovers, Thomson happened upon a figure of distinctive devotion, 56-year-old Bill Eckert, the “unofficial commissioner” of pond hockey in Maryland’s Carroll County.
“Each year as the calendar reaches its final days, Eckert keeps an eye on the thermometer. After a week of sub-freezing weather, when the ice grows thicker than a man’s fist and safe enough to skate on, he begins calling friends and neighbors and rounding up his children.”
“If you’re still a kid at heart, it’s still fun. It feels good afterward and you sleep good at night,” the commish told the Sun reporter.
Truer words were never spoken. A semi-senior circuit skater on ice sheets indoor and out myself, I can attest: my best nights’ sleep this winter have been on weekend evenings after a morning’s skate of local shinny. My stride lacks its burst of 10 years ago, my middle-age weight restricts my endurance in ways I care not to acknowledge, my reaction times in traffic are diminished, but my boundless appreciation for feeling that frigid air fill my lungs as I chase pucks on sheets without zones and referees feels as fresh and innocent as it did three decades ago.
Five hundred-plus miles to our north, on the same weekend as the Sun’s profile of shinny’s shine, arrived a fresh tale of terrific Arctic air avocation and recreation: up in Portland, Maine, one local successfully petitioned city government to support the construction of an outdoor rink set above a beautiful bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The Portland Press Herald’s Dierdre Fleming details the shinny-devotion of Portlander Michael Roy in her feature ‘Must have ice.’
“Michael Roy’s addiction,” Fleming writes, “started four years ago. And it is an addiction, this pond-hockey love, his ice rink devotion, this nice-ice fix Roy needs four months of the year . . .
“Roy is the kind of hockey fan who goes around looking for open fields, envisioning hockey rinks, dreaming of ice sheets in more backyards.”
So thoroughly successful was Roy’s passion-pursuit in Portland that he even lured the local fire department into flooding his newly constructed rink with 28,000 gallons of water.
” On Jan. 22, when the rest of Maine was fearing the negative-zero temperatures to come, Michael Roy was smiling,” Fleming observes.
“The two perfect words I heard the weatherman say,” Roy told Fleming, ‘Arctic cold’.”
Roy actually has two sheets of ice up in Maine to maintain for his hockey heart’s skates all winter long. His two daughters at home like to skate. Naturally, they have a backyard rink for their use, maintained by dad.
“Since he built his first home ice rink for his two daughters four years ago, Roy has fallen into the winter ritual: checking the ice first thing in the morning and right before bed; going out to rake and pour hot water on it. It is a ritual rooted in nature, as natural as the tides.”