Friday, December 6, 2013
How I Scored The Greatest Goal You’ve Never Heard Of
Yes, that’s me. It was 1986 and I thought I was Mark Messier or Steve Yzerman out there.
My poor coach.
Those ridiculous glasses (which my father picked out for me because they were the cheapest ones on the shelf, not the prettiest) used to get fogged up under my cage during shifts and I would sometimes have trouble finding the bench to get off the ice.
I can still hear a coffee addled Coach Munro screaming “Milks, Milks, you’re going to the wrong bench!”
Stopping on the ice was also a problem. I could only stop on one side – my right - which meant that no matter where the play was headed or what direction I needed to go, I had to dig on my right side and then adjust afterwards. Often I would just crash into the boards to stop my momentum because that was easier. I was like a pinball out there, a really slow rolling pinball.
No one wiped out harder than I did. I can still remember the crowd of parents in the stands going “Oooohhhh” really loudly a few times when I went crashing into the boards (which were anchored in cement and felt like titanium). Hockey equipment would be everywhere. My mother said she thought I had killed myself a few times and used to cover her eyes whenever I started to go for a puck in the corner. Sometimes I would get that puck but it was usually under my body as I lay on the ice trying to breathe properly again.
Those moments brought back bad memories for my mother, who used to sit in the stands watching my old man playing Junior B in the early 70’s who would get into a lot of fights he could rarely win. My old man was what they called “a bleeder” and a “goer”, which meant that he never turned down a fight but usually looked a lot worse than the other guy when it was all over. Sort of like Brandon Prust, I guess. My mom would sit in the stands every night, sobbing until after the game when he would emerge stitched up, wearing his prized team jacket and smiling. “Kim, I’m fine. Let’s go get a hamburger.”
That 1986-1987 Almonte Centennials Atom team was a good one. We went 18-1-1 during the regular season according to the little newspaper clipping I saved from the Almonte Gazette. I played left-wing and didn’t score a single goal until the last game of the season in Stittsville against the Redmen. In that same clipping, which read like it was written by Slaphshot’s Dickie Dunn (in which he tried to “capture the spirit of the thing”), every player got a descriptive sentence or two so the parents could be proud and show it to the rest of the family at the summer barbeques. My sentence said “Jeremy Milks; what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in hustle.”
Which essentially meant “this kid was brutal (and blind) but his parents paid the 500 bucks so we had to play him”.
A kid named Mike Hand and I were the two smallest guys on the team and we usually played on the same line. Those shifts were when the other team would get their goals. Both Hand and I were goalless after the 15 game mark and time was running out. Coach Munro started playing us with the best guys on the team just praying a puck would bounce in the net off our ass so he wouldn’t be getting any dirty looks from our parents at the year-end banquet.
Then one night Hand scored a goal and I was the only guy left on the team with a zero beside my name. I still remember Coach Munro leaning over my shoulder as the team celebrated and saying “Now it’s your turn Milks”. I remember it because I had never smelled breath that bad before. It was a potent mix of cigarettes and coffee which fogged my glasses up with brown steam.
I had to score a goal or I’d go through life like a hockey leper.
Then it happened. It was at the Stittsville arena and we were coasting to a blowout win in the third period. Coach Munro put me on the ice with our captain and best player Marty Killeen (whose nickname was “Cool” – I’m serious). I remember it in slow motion. Killeen, who was actually a defenseman but spent most of his time on breakaways, chased a puck into the Redmen corner and I just dumbly went to the net like I always did, praying I could stop before running into the goalie. Killeen blindly threw the puck in my direction and I was all alone… somehow.
The puck hit my tape and just died there. I had all the time in the world. My old man, who had come on as an assistant coach partway through the year so he could get out of the house and away from my mom, screamed “Shooooooot!” but I heard it in slow motion so it sounded deep and evil. The Stittsville goalie stared at me. We could have shook hands in the time it took.
Finally I shot the puck and it was a holy roller. It dipped, it shook, it flipped – it even levitated for a moment. But it went in and I still remember standing there, just staring at it in the back of the ratty looking net. I looked over and Marty Killeen was roaring towards me with a huge smile on his face. Everybody swarmed me and my glasses fogged up again.
Coach Munro was waiting at the bench beside my old man and he was pumping his fists in the air like a madman. I got a speed wobble on the way back and fell into the open door at his feet. But I had scored and everything was going to be all right.
I played a few more years, scored a few more goals and even learned how to stop on my left-side. But then I discovered heavy metal, girls and contact lenses and my hockey playing days were over.
And every once in a while, I drive over to that Stittsville Arena in the middle of the night and stand on the darkened ice and raise my arms in the air, with heroic tears streaming down my face. Actually, I don’t do that. That would be crazy. But I should do that.
At least once.