20 April, 2014


Linemate for a Lifetime

Thirty years is serious longevity for linemates. Even in beer leagues. I first started skating with Larry when I was 14 and working weekends at a local ice rink. I figure over the years in our various beer leagues he and I potted more than 500 goals each on our line. Larry and I are in beer league retirement these days, but we reformed our line at a team reunion skate one Saturday a few weeks back. We potted  a couple more goals skating together then, and at the post-skate barbeque and beerfest our hamstrings ached and our lower backs were on fire, but we pledged to shed 10 pounds each for next summer’s reunion.

Our team reunion each summer features a golf outing and a Friday night draft for the Saturday skate at a local watering hole after the golf. I was late arriving for the draft this year, and so I paid a heavy price: the guys made sure I was the last skater selected. But there’s one constant to our draft. Whoever selects one of Larry or me automatically gets us both. It’s an unspoken pact. Our shifts together illustrate why.

I first met Larry, my lifetime left wing, when I was a sophomore in high school in Montgomery County, and he and I regularly worked autumn and winter and early spring weekends at the Cabin John Ice Rink. That rink was the site of my very first job. Talk about unglamorous: I worked in the snack bar. But I could skate for free! Larry, seven years older, was the nightshift manager for the facility while taking classes at Maryland. My love affair with hockey then was in full bloom — my skates were ever with me during my shifts — and as closing manager Larry had keys to the rink. Our virtual lifetime friendship was forged with those keys.

This was about the time Rod Langway was hauling in Norris Trophies and making hockey first start to matter in Washington, and that, too, fueled the passion for puck that Larry and I shared. But nothing can foster a love for ice like having a sheet all to yourself, with your pal, winter weekend after winter weekend.

On Saturday nights we typically had the place swept up and the patrons shoo-ed out by 11:00, and then our fun began. Larry would hop up on the Zamboni and make ice while I secured sodas and snacks to sustain us through sometimes four or five hours of passion-puck. Together we blistered slapshots from every conceivable angle, fed each other for one-timers, played games of posts with a couple of other puck pals, and just lost ourselves in the fantastic frigidness of timeless, unsupervised shinny. Every distinguishing skill I ever obtained in hockey, I’m convinced, was cultivated during those middle-of-the-night skates.

We’d crank DC-101 on the rink speakers, too, for our skates. Back then DC-101 was reliable for deep-cut killer-good rock. I’m very nostalgic about a lot of things ’80s, but especially that era’s rock music. It occurs to me: if you were a young punk with keys to a rink and a calling to skate with your buddy until the sun rose on Sunday morning, you sure as heck wouldn’t listen to commercial radio today. But the great rock of that era was very much found on the FM dial, and very much a soundtrack to our skates.

Back then, Cabin John was an outdoor rink, covered by a roof and with rudimentary windscreens on one side, but I don’t ever recall Larry and I opting not to skate a Saturday night because it was too cold. When managers made ice they’d dump the snow not into environmentally responsible water-re-use pits in the Zam bay but out at the edge of the park woods. The Cabin John Zamboni snow piled high in the ’70s and ’80s of my youth, when winters here were hearty. College kids like Larry typically managed the facility. Guess where they stashed their contraband weekend beer?

The big laughs arrived when a premature thaw unveiled a serious stash of well dispersed frothies in that snowbank; the lucky manager on duty then was set for summer with beer. I don’t remember imbibing with the managers at 14 or 15, but by my junior year I was tipping back a few after our skates. Just a couple, actually; Larry and I had jelly for legs by the time we headed for the refreshment bank out back. I remember most skating so long and so hard and with so much passion with Larry and one or two other rink rats we’d invite into our after-hours puck parties that near dawn on Sundays I’d collapse on a cot in the rink’s First-Aid room. Sometimes I was so tired I’d sleep in my gear.

Larry fast became a beloved family friend. My parents knew I was with him those winter weekend nights, and therefore were wholly comfortable with my after hours recreating, although years later my father told me that when he first informed my mom of my unusual sleeping habits she immediately replied “Who’s the girl?” Dad, though, knew where my heart was.

Going away for college proved traumatic for me, and it took me a good 10 years or more to realize that separation from my linemate had a good bit to do with it. I actually transferred in college to get away from a school in the South to one with hockey and hearty winters. Whenever I came home from school on breaks I always rejoined Larry on our line. Maybe it’s nostalgia now, but it seemed like we always clicked on my returns from school, as if I’d never left.

Jobs and careers over the years have moved us apart from one another, and most recently — over the past 12 years or so — to locations about 50 miles apart, he in Virginia, me in Maryland. Our final beer league home was located, appropriately enough, right smack in the middle of that distance. Larry and I tore that league apart until we both quietly and without much coordination eased into beer league retirement a few years back. Now we’re more or less ceremonial skaters. But always together.



3 Comments

  1. puckbite.com wrote:

    A great story about how hockey brings us and keeps us together. Thanks!

    6 August, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink
  2. Justin wrote:

    Great tale. Growing up in Howard County, the best part of the weekend for me during the winter was 9 PM high school practices at Cabin John. The only ice time we could get, but looking back I’m glad it was so.

    8 August, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  3. CJ had such charm when it was an outdoor facility. Its bigger and more multi-use and of course a 12-month-a-year facility now, and that makes it of far greater value as a recreation site to the community. I will also tell you that the McPhee family skated a lot there, and the GM once told me — this was very pre-Kettler — that he regarded it as eminently worthy of hosting Capitals’ training camp.

    8 August, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink