Lobby Hockey Game

by Murray Poole from Surrey, BC
Feb 8, 14

My alarm went off at an ungodly hour that Sunday morning. I jumped up, threw on some clothes, and raced downstairs to the TV room. My brother, Kevin, was already sitting in the good chair. I opened the curtains on the cold February morning but it was still dark out; the only light in the room came from the glow of the television. There was only one reason two twenty-something young men would be up this early on a Sunday morning: a hockey game. But not just any hockey game. It was the Gold Medal match at the 1994 Olympics, Canada versus Sweden. It was taking place on the other side of the world in Lillehammer, Norway. I sat down in the lumpy chair and settled in.

It was a classic game and it had my brother and I on the edge of our seats from beginning to end. Sweden nursed a 1-0 lead into the third period but Canada scored two quick goals halfway through the final frame to go ahead. With two minutes left Canada took a penalty in front of their own net. “Dive!” my brother and I screamed at the TV, but the referee ignored us. Just moments later Sweden scored on the power play to tie it up. 

And that, with the seconds frantically ticking down towards possible sudden death overtime, is when our eleven-year-old sister quietly walked into the room and said, “I’m late.”

“Jen!” my brother yelled, waving his arms wildly, “You’re in the way! You’re blocking the TV!”  

My sister politely stepped back. She was wrapped in her big winter jacket. She had her boots on. And was wearing her toque. “Jen, what are you doing?” I asked, as the horn to end regulation time blared.  

“I’ve got a ringette game,” she said matter-of-factly, “and I’m late. We gotta go now.”

My mouth dropped. Our parents were away. On vacation in New Zealand. And they had trustingly left their little daughter in the safe hands of her two older brothers. I looked at Kevin in disbelief, and then back at Jen.  

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I said. “You’ve got ringette? Now?” 

“Yes,” she said. “I’m late.”  

I slumped back into my chair, stunned. Kevin looked at me with his mouth hanging open. Then he said, “You’re the oldest! I can tape the rest for you on the VCR.”

My mind raced. How wrong would it be if I didn’t take my little sister to the rink? I stared at her standing there, all bundled up and eager to go, and decided: it’d probably be pretty bad. “Ok,” I sighed, “get your stuff. Let’s go.”

I hurried Jen into the truck, warmed up the engine for a solid count of three, and then took off out of the driveway. It was a good fifteen-minute drive from our house to the ice rink downtown. The sudden death overtime period of the hockey game was limited to ten minutes. I started scanning the AM dial hoping I could find the game on some faint radio wave. No luck. I wondered if there would be any bars open in town. I was pretty sure none opened before Sunday mass.

We arrived at the rink in record time and I hustled Jen and her gear into the dressing room. I quickly dropped her ringette bag in a heap on the floor, patted her on the head wished, her luck, and then sprinted out into the rink hoping that I could find a television. The lobby of the new rink where Jen was playing was totally empty, there wasn’t a person, nor a television in sight. I rushed down the hall towards the old rink and burst through its doors into the lobby.

The lobby was jam packed with parents. More accurately, it was jam packed with hockey moms, as it seemed a lot of hockey dads weren’t able to get out of the house that morning. The lobby was also crammed with two fully dressed Peewee hockey teams, along with their coaches, the referees, and the Zamboni driver. Everybody was dead quiet and staring intently into the middle of the room. I couldn’t hear a television. And I didn’t see a television. But there, in the center of the lobby, I saw a woman on a pay phone.

“They’re going with Forsberg again for Sweden,” she said aloud, and a murmur went through the crowd. I turned to the person beside me and whispered, “What’s going on?” She put her finger to her lips to shush me. “They’re still tied. They’re in the shootout.” Then she said: “That lady is on the phone with her husband. He is relaying the play-by-play from home.”

I turned back to the woman on the phone. “He’s coming in… Forsberg is coming in…” the crowd was hanging on her every word, “he dekes… oh! He scores. He’s scored.” Her description didn’t do justice to a goal so remarkable that it eventually ended up on a Swedish postage stamp, but it got the facts across. After some moaning, the crowd composed itself and quieted down again.

“Canada is going with Kariya,” said the lady on the phone. “He needs to score to keep it going.” Paul Kariya was a popular choice in the lobby. A few people acknowledged his selection with a “Yeah! Go Kariya!” And then all eyes and ears re-focused on the woman on the phone. After a minute or two of painstaking buildup, the woman on the phone finally broke her silence. “He’s going. Kariya is skating in…” the crowd collectively held its breath.  

“The goalie’s down! Kariya shoots!” her voice escalated, but then, after a brief moment of confusion, came crashing down.

“Oh no. It didn’t go in. He didn’t score.” The woman on the phone shook her head and sighed, “That’s it. It’s over.”

None of us had taken a breath in well over a minute. There was a collective inhalation and then a couple of the Peewee players swore. And no one bothered to correct them. The woman on the phone thanked her husband and hung up the receiver. “Heck of a game,” someone said, and everyone nodded their head in agreement, “Heck of a game. They played well.” There were a few claps and quiet cheers for the effort and then the twelve-year-old boys turned and made their way back onto the ice to resume their interrupted game. And the rest of the crowd dispersed.

I put up the collar on my coat, stuck my hands deep into my pockets, and slowly made my way back to the rink where Jen was warming up for her ringette game. She saw me leaning up against the glass, and skated over, and thru her cage flashed one of those goofy smiles that only a sister can flash. I laughed out loud and smiled back. I had gotten my little sister to the rink just in time for her game.