Like a Puck to the Head: Ice Hockey Memories - and Ice Dancing

Village in the Snow,
by Alan Lees
I've just edited, polished and republished a new edition of a novel called Ice Dancing for Kindle - and there will be a paperback available before too long.

It's a story about Scottish village life. It's a very grown up love story with a heroine who is almost ten years older than the man she loves. (Why is that so unusual?) There's a dark side to it. But it's also a story about the beauty and skill and poetry of a sport that I've loved for a very long time.

There's a Canadian hockey song that talks about love being like a 'frozen puck to the head.' If you've never seen a hockey game, and never felt the size, weight and speed of a frozen ice hockey puck, that won't mean much to you. But once felt, never forgotten. Even when the puck occasionally flies over the protective plexi glass and connects with a spectator, it can be painful, and people are advised to keep their eye on it at all times. So not a bad way of describing the kind of love that comes out of nowhere and strikes like a bolt of lightning.

My own love affair with ice hockey began many years ago when I was a young woman teaching English to adults in Tampere, in Finland. I spent two very happy years there, and one of the first things we learned was that if you wanted to get the young engineers and other techies talking - which was our job, after all - you had only to ask them about ice hockey. We would have long conversations about the rules of the game and the state of play of the local teams. It was hard not to become involved, especially when these 'students' - who were essentially the same age as we were - invited us out to hockey games so that we could see just what they were talking about!

Cue forward some years and the UK saw a renaissance of interest in professional ice hockey, with the setting up of the so-called Superleague, involving several high calibre teams. This was a bit controversial in that these teams employed many ‘imported’, particularly Canadian, players, but it undeniably raised the standards of play for the spectators who had the privilege of watching some world class hockey on home ice. Plus the standard of coaching for young, aspiring British players, my own son included, was excellent and inspirational.

Although there are still teams throughout the UK, playing excellent, entertaining hockey, the Superleague lasted only from 1995 to 2003, after which it was disbanded and replaced with the Elite Hockey League. My own seasons spent as a ‘UK hockey mom’ inspired at least some of the background to the novel, a time I remember with a great deal of affection, not least because of the off-ice chat and laughter. Hockey was and remains a very inclusive sport. 

When I was writing Ice Dancing, though, it was another occasion I remembered. I had taken my son and his friend to a public skating session at our local ice arena, when a young man, casually dressed in jeans and a fleece, started moving gently over the ice in time to the music. Except that it was like no dancing on ice I had ever seen before. I never found out who he was, but I remember thinking that he might have been a hockey player, because most of them have the same grace as ice dancers and there was something about his movements that suggested hockey. Of course I wrote it as fiction.

'In the control box, someone had put on Too Lost In You, and lowered the lights just a little. It was strange. Other people were still skating, but he made them look clumsy. He skated gently and deftly around them and among them, not bothering them at all, making patterns on the ice in time to the music. He skated like a dream. He was showing off now. I knew fine he was showing off for me and everyone else, unable to resist the temptation of that music and those sexy words. After a while, people went to the side, just so they could watch him. The stewards stood with their arms folded, defensive and a bit jealous. Players didn’t usually do this. They normally kept themselves to themselves. But here was Joe, putting on a display for free. It wasn’t done.

And what Joe was doing, it wasn’t exactly dancing, but it was rhythmic and fluid and sometimes it was acrobatic. A man sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Now you know why they call him Sky Napier. Good, isn’t he?’ And I nodded but he was more than good. He was utterly and completely beautiful out there on the ice. The music was part of the magic, sensual and insistent. He seemed like nothing but movement. I could have watched him all day. A creature of ice and fire. Bright and enticing.'

Ice Dancing is entirely fictional, but there is a darker side of the sport - of all sports  - that is a part of the fabric of the novel. And on another topic, the wartime internment of Italians who had made their homes in Scotland for many years is a matter of shameful fact. Given the more recent experiences of the Windrush generation, it is one that has by no means been consigned to history.

All the same - this is mainly a book about an unexpected physical and mental attraction, the sheer, overwhelming joy of falling unwisely in love - and the sheer joy of ice hockey too! 


Picture by Skeeze on Pixabay





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