If you hate or, more accurately, have no interest in hockey – for what reason could one have for hating a sport; no sport ever tried to run anyone over with their car, or anything – fear not, for today’s offering is not primarily about Canada’s National Pastime and most prominent contribution to the world. You’re welcome. (For giving you hockey and for this story not being about hockey. Making it both a national “Your welcome” and a personal one as well.)
This, instead, is a love story. In a hockey surrounding,. The way War And Peace is a love story in a warring parties surrounding. Only shorter. And in English.
I have told this story before. But in these shortened and blustery days of winter, what could be more truly warming than an original hockey story – sorry, I mean, love story in a hockey surrounding. (I believe a discriminatory prejudice was momentarily exposed there, though I almost immediately nipped it in the budd. It is indeed a love story. Though if you enjoy hockey, you will hardly be disappointed.)
I am also required to retell this story because my creative impulses that are fully in charge in these matters requires me to, or I am unable to move forward. That is simply the way it works. A story surfaces in my brain screaming, “Tell me!” And like insulation in winterized housing, it restricts entry of any external inspirations until it is finally told. So practically speaking, I have no choice in the matter. I am at the mercy of my Muse, which is normally extremely helpful. (Sucking-Up Explanation: You do not want to get on a Muse’s bad side.)
Okay, so here we go.
As the story was related to me numerous decades ago, a teenaged friend of mine’s sister – who was thirteen at the time and whose name was Debbie – had a deep and overpowering crush on an early 1960’s Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player. Echoing yesterday’s post, in reference to the nature and intensity of teenaged girl crushes, “Not being a teenaged girl, Earl, you could not possibly understand.”
Which is probably correct. I mean, I love the Leafs, but I never once slept with their picture under my pillow.
Debbie’s crush was hardly global, meaning for all the Leafs. I do not even know if she was a hockey fan. Her unbounded ardor and enthusiasm was lasered specifically onto one hockey player, whom she would apparently die for – a less than talented journeyman who almost never got into games by the name of Gary “Duke” Edmundson.
Debbie’s loyalty for this fringe hockey player was limitless. She collected every article and photograph of Gary “Duke” Edmundson she could get her hands on and she plastered an entire bedroom wall with them, enshrining him with his unilaterally exclusive “Wall of Fame”, which, with the exception of, perhaps, Gary “Duke” Edmundson’s family, was very likely the only one of its kind in existence.
If the official “Hockey Hall of Fame” were in Debbie’s bedroom, you might easily have confused Gary “Duke” Edmundson with Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe, though not in the actual “Hall of Fame”, which readily enshrined the two superstar “all-timers” but would never include Gary. The guy only played 43 games in the National Hockey League, and if you added up his minutes of actual “ice time”, it would be maybe two or three games total.
But Debbie didn’t care about statistics. There was something about Gary “Duke” Edmundson that resonated deeply in her adolescent female sensibilities. And it had nothing to do with ability. As he had very little of it.
One day – and I was not informed how – Debbie procured two excruciatingly difficult-to-acquire tickets to see the Leafs play on Saturday night at Maple Leaf Gardens. For Debbie, this was a dream come true. Finally, she would be in the immediate proximity of her head-over-heels, heartthrob hockey hero…
Gary “Duke” Edmundson.
The seats were not great ones, located up in the “Grays”, so named after the color the seats were painted in the “nosebleed” section of that hallowed and revered hockey mecca. (Which was subsequently replaced by a more modern facility and itself converted into a supermarket. My heart breaks with this parenthetical.)
Debbie and a girlfriend arrive early, guaranteeing their presence at the “warm-ups”, a pre-game ritual in which Gary “Duke” Edmundson would be spending his most extended amount of minutes on the ice, as, during the game, he would be relegated to a position at the end of the bench, which he would unlikely vacate unless a substantial portion of the Leaf team was incapacitated, having all been inadvertently struck in the face by flying pucks and been off carted to the Dressing Room for stitches. (After which they would, all swollen and stitched up, return to the ice because…they’re hockey players.)
The game begins. Debbie has no interest in the proceedings, her gaze fixed intently not on the play, but on her “guy”, languishing at the end of the Maple Leaf bench.
The experience was inconceivably exhilarating.
But the girl wanted more.
Elbowing her compadre to follow her, Debbie gets up, “Sorrying” her way along their aisle, and then descending the concrete stairs down to “ice level”, where she works her way along the front aisle, arriving finally at her destination, behind the Leafs bench – more specifically, the far end of the Leafs bench, where, her heart pounding like a piston, she positions herself directly behind…
Gary “Duke” Edmundson.
The girl is in heaven. There she stands, at arm’s distance from the man of her most private and protected adolescent reveries.
It is then that the girl completely lost her mind.
Almost trancelike, Debbie robotically extends her arm, and in a gesture of uncontrollable devotion, touches the sitting Gary “Duke” Edmundson gently on the shoulder.
Responding reflexively to that touch, the traditional coach’s signal for “Go in”, Gary “Duke” Edmundson stands up, vaults excitedly over the boards…
And the Leafs are immediately penalized for having “Too many players on the ice.”
Postscript: This story sounds apocryphal. But a few years ago, when I accidentally ran into the now-adult Debbie, she confirmed to me that it was true. And the look on her face – part retroactive embarrassment, part “It was one of the greatest moments of my life” suggested very strongly that it happened.
Canadians don’t lie.
Especially about hockey.