I was born and raised in Sudbury during the bleakest time in that city’s history. After decades of unmanaged foresting and unprecedented pollution, Sudbury’s reputation in the 1950s and ’60s as an urban hellhole was cemented after it was chosen as the testing ground for NASA’s first Moonwalks. Sudbury’s landscape was beyond depressing; it was dreary at best. When it rained the water would run off the desolate black rocks flooding our basements for there was no soil to hold back the torrents. It’s better now after a few decades of re-planting but the scars, still visible in between the newly potted foliage, run deep.
Sudbury looked its best after a snowfall when the barren hills would be covered with white fluffy snow. It was also during winter that the city became hockey mad.
It’s hard for anyone who never lived in a small town to realize the effect hockey has on the psyche of residents living there.
In Sudbury either you embraced the hockey culture, played the game so to speak, or you sat out the winter alone, in your room, banned from society.
Hockey consumed Sudbury with every backyard including ours having a rink. Eddie Shack lived down the street and Leafs great George Armstrong lived next door.
The soundtrack of my life includes the mantra of Sudbury, the thud of a puck hitting the boards over and over and over again.
All my cousins played on one team or another, my teachers were in a league, the cops had one too, the priests, the bus drivers, the store clerks, firefighters, the so-called hockey moms had moms who played hockey, everyone played. Everybody but me. I was never deemed good enough to even imagine getting on a team.
I was told again and again and again to sit it out: “Get off the ice. Who is this guy? I don’t want him on my team.” Hockey to me became something to fear and loathe, mostly against my own desire to at least be given the chance. My older brother John was the big hockey star of the family and like a thousand other kids had he been given the opportunity could have played in the NHL.