OUT ON A LIMB: Freezing our toques off in the great outdoor game

Reflecting on my great outdoor hockey game experience of one cold, clear winter day in the Yukon

In light of last Sunday’s outdoor Heritage Classic, I reflected on my great outdoor hockey game experience of one cold, clear winter day in the Yukon in 1976/77.We were playing the outdoor ice “rink” in Ross River and I was a rightwinger for the Ed Lambkin Construction Hornets. It was a road game for us, having driven the 30 miles down the Campbell Highway to the predominantly First Nations village. We were a team of junior-age players and we played in the dramatically named Wild Moose Hockey League – I’m not making this up – a men’s league in Faro, Yukon. One of the teams in the league was a squad from Ross River and they occasionally hosted games on their home rink – an open-air ice surface in the village.This was roughing it for the rest of the teams coming from Faro, where we had just had our new indoor rink completed the previous summer. No more outdoor stuff for us. In a year or two we would even get a Zamboni but I would have fled to university in Vancouver by that time.So there we were on a bright sunny day – much like last Sunday’s Heritage Classic in Calgary – dressing in the unheated change room. This was a wooden shed that had so many holes and gaps in the walls any heating fixtures would have been a waste of time any way. Our team of 14-17 year old players were hollering our heads off freezing our behinds while we got into our hockey gear. It was more adrenaline than real cold and we were laughing at each other as much anything. Still, one Ross player scornfully told us to quit complaining. We ignored him and continued to holler and kibbutz. I’m sure the whole village could have heard us through the plywood walls.Anyway, we went out there and resumed our stellar league play against men’s teams. I think we came close to winning one game once. Yes, there was one game where we made a second-period surge and scored a couple of goals.It was the 70s and we were a bunch of kids from a rough and ready little mining town. I remember playing a Whitehorse team our own age once and one of our players, feeling neighbourly and sportsmanlike, went into the opposition dressing room and offered cigarettes all around the room. He came back to our dressing room amazed and a touch offended that none of the Whitehorse players took him up on his kind gesture.“I offered a cigarette all round the room and you know how many took me up on it? Not one!” he said incredulously.Oh well, I fondly remember that outdoor game in Ross. It was actually beautiful. A snow clad village in beautiful sunshine and blue skies. The timeless Pelly River rolled by. I was probably in the best shape of my life and could skate for hours. It wasn’t great hockey but we weren’t playing for professional contracts either. We played for the pure love of the game. It was my quintessential heritage moment. My Winter classic.