The Coolest Game on Earth


Sure, he lives in the States, but deep down in his heart lies the lifeblood of a maple leaf-pure (oops, Canadiens-pure) Canuck.

I’m talking, of course, about my friend Jim Ferguson who regularly jumps in here to share with us his more serious, as well as lightweight thoughts on everything going, much the same as this ADHD’ish Man On The Fringe has for some years now.

Jim and I met in the hallowed halls of Stanton Yellowknife Hospital in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (in Canada’s Arctic region) in 1977, and have been fast (but growing more slow) friends ever since.

During our stint in the frozen north, Jim and I played hockey together… actually against each other, as I dressed for the Westown Wheelers and Jim was a member of the Twin Pines Totems.

But enough about olden days from me. It’s time for Jim to bring out his pads and tell you about his most Canadian of experiences… take it away Jim…

Yvan Cournoyer

Today I want to blog about a topic near and dear to my heart and the hearts of most Canadians.

No! I’m not talking about beer, poutine, smoked meat sandwiches from Dunn’s Famous Smoked Meats in Montreal, or where on Oak Island Captain Kidd’s treasure is buried. I’m talking about the “coolest game on earth” …


Hockey is part of the very fabric of Canadian life for so many of us (count my mum out… she despises the game for reasons to be discussed later).

How often have you heard someone say that hockey is “part of our culture”? If I have heard that once, I’ve heard it a million times!

We eat and breathe the game and have strong allegiances to our favourite teams and our favourite players. For me it has been, since I was a wee lad, the Montreal Canadiens, and my favourite player was always the Roadrunner, Yvan Cournoyer – all 5’ 7” of him flying up and down the ice with great speed and scoring highlight reel goals from both sides (he was ambidextrous).

I have great memories of watching Les Habs on Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) on Saturday evenings with my dad and brother.

It was hard not to be a hockey fan growing up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in the 1960s.

We would receive hockey gear for all birthdays and at Christmas too. We rarely missed HNIC on Saturday nights. Those “original six” games were something to behold even on our B & W TV.

We had a small lake a ½ mile from our house where we would scrape off a rink and play hockey from morning until supper time, day in, day out during the winter months. In the summer we played street hockey all the time. What’s not to like about that schedule, eh?

My dad was an excellent hockey player growing up in Quebec in the 1930s and 1940s. That was certainly an inspiration for me to want to play.

He was a good goalie and in junior hockey played against the likes of Jean Beliveau and other eventual stars of the NHL. He boasts that the “pre-Habs” Beliveau never scored on him although he did split dad’s head open cracking him across his “melon” with his stick in frustration one time.

My grandad and grandma were even approached by representatives of the Canadiens seeking permission to move dad to Montreal to finish high school and to groom him for the possibility of eventually trying out for the junior Canadiens and maybe the “big club” one day. But… his parents refused, and dad (seen in photo below-top centre) would eventually join the Royal Canadian Air Force where he backstopped the Western Europe RCAF Flyers against the top European teams during the 1950s.

I played organized hockey growing up in Dartmouth NS during my younger days and then in the Annapolis Valley during my high school years. I loved the game.

I was on the Central Kings Rural High Wildcats in grades 9, 11, and 12. In grade 10, my parents decided I needed an “attitudinal adjustment” and a shot in the academic arm and sent me to Kings College School (KCS) in Windsor, NS.

KCS, founded in 1788, is the oldest boy’s school in Canada (now Kings-Edghill).

I remember my dad selling me on the KCS opportunity by telling me “they have a good varsity hockey team and it’s a private school, so you are on the ice every day if you make the team”. That was enough to sell me on the opportunity.

What he didn’t tell me was that the coach at the time was an egomaniacal former American Hockey League (AHL) goalie and former junior hockey coach in Halifax who used to compete against my dad, who was then owner and coach of the Dartmouth Junior Arrows across the harbour.

Let’s just say that the coach made my life a living hell when I tried out for the team BUT I had the last laugh (I think?) …I made the team.

One other interesting hockey point about KCS worthy of mention. There has been and continues to be great debate in Canada as to the birthplace of hockey. The debate centres on whether the game originated in Montreal or at KCS in Windsor NS!

Having the KCS connection, I am promoting KCS as the birthplace of hockey (no bias here, eh!). Evidence suggests that the lads at KCS took the Irish field game Hurley and adapted it to the ice in the 1800s and the rest is, as they say, history.

Varsity hockey was a main sport at KCS in 1973-74 when I was a student there. No doubt the history of hockey at KCS was a strong motivator for us kids to want to play for the varsity team. It certainly was for me.

Not everyone is a hockey fan.

As noted above, my mum has NEVER liked the game and has always felt that dad, my older brother Dave, and I wasted too much of our time in front of the TV watching “those damn games” or playing the game.

My dad continued to play as an adult for whatever squadron he was with at the time.

I played at all levels through high school and in a brutal adult league in Yellowknife as a young man. Larry and I both played in that league, and it was a battle every game especially against the RCMP/Yellowknife police team – the dirtiest team of the five teams in our league. I still have bruises and pains from those games…😊 [Ed. note: Me too!]

Mum was so against our love for hockey she eventually developed a sadistic streak and started to watch HNIC with us and cheer on the OTHER TEAM just to piss us off! Thankfully that only lasted a season or so and she got bored.

I loved the game so much that when I was in Nome, Alaska from 2002-2005, I teamed up with a few guys from Minnesota who also love the game and we started a youth hockey program for the kids of Nome.

We built a NHL-sized outdoor rink and before you know it we had almost 70 kids sign up. We did an old-fashioned “equipment drive” through the mail in Minnesota and scored many boxes of gear, skates, etc from a Catholic high school team in St. Cloud and we were able to outfit the whole group of kids with much of the gear they would need.

We would practice and play in all conditions including MINUS 20-degree temps. These kids were dedicated and hearty boys and girls.

Lastly, I spent 6.5-years in Alpena, Michigan working in a busy family medicine clinic.

The “biggest game” in town was the high school hockey team and the rink was packed for every game.

Jim wearing his Alpena jacket but playing outdoors at -20 in Nome, Alaska

I decided to take in a game during my 1st winter in town and one of my friends was manning the penalty box and mentioned to the coach that I was Canadian and a former hockey player. Next thing I knew I was talking to the coach after the game, and he asked me if I would serve as an assistant coach of the team to which I said “absolutely”.

I spent 6 seasons as an assistant coach, and working with the youth sharing my passion for the game only deepened my love for the game even more. The highlight of that 6-year run was making it to the 1999-00 Division 1 State finals where we lost to a powerful private school in the title game.

So now…at 64-years-old, I have turned my attention to my 85-year-old mother-in-law and have brainwashed her into thinking she is an avid hockey fan…😊

We sit in front of her TV watching games a couple of times weekly and I get to tell her who to cheer for and of course she is a Habs fan (much to the chagrin of her son back in Boston…😊)! It doesn’t get any better than that!

Game on!



Jim’s Dad Ian playing goal with the RCAF in the mid-1950’s

A Canadian Boy’s Wintry Night …



Early December was an exciting time for me as a kid.

Sure, Christmas was coming soon.

Christmas tree lots jettisoned broad, bright beams of light into the dark night sky to announce their Scotch Pine locations.

Mom mixed and baked multi-coloured fruitcakes, punched out warm, buttery-scented shortbread in Santa and bell shapes, and Food For The Gods squares were layered with sweet pink icing.

Black and white versions of Charlie Brown’s mournful Christmas tree and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’s stop-action encounter with Misfit Toys were the latest TV phenomenons.


But even more important than all of that Christmas magic? MORE important!

I could finally put on my hockey skates once again.

Ice formed on the rinks, in the ponds, and Mom flooded the backyard rink after we went to bed.

I would lace up my hand-me-down, beat-up leather CCM skates and transform into Davy Keon, or Jean Beliveau, or Bobby Orr or Boom Boom Geoffrion. I’d fold newspapers into a long narrow bundle and slip them under my pants for shin pads and I was ready.

ccm skates

I was a star on ice.

Nothing … I mean nothing … was better than feeling those skate blades come into contact with ice for the first time of the year as I stepped through the rink’s gate. It was a full blown kiddie orgasm.

To feel the slide … to hear the intoxicating swoosh of a freshly sharpened skate blade on hard ice. Wushhhhhh ….. wushhhhh … getting ever faster as you swooped around the corner of the rink.

Chill winter air rushed over my ruddy pink cheeks, a Montreal Canadiens toque kept my head toasty.

School would let out at 4 o’clock, and I would deliver my Hamilton Spectator newspapers to my 35 customers. Then I was free.

Remember how summers lasted for years when you were a kid? Two months would go on and on and on … it was fabulous.

Just like that, winter evenings lasted hours and hours.

This allowed oodles of time for under-the-streetlights road or playground hockey with my neighbourhood buddies.

And if we were lucky and the city workers were active like midnight elves, an ice rink would miraculously appear out of nowhere in the park across the street, complete with old wooden boards fashioned into a hockey arena structure.

With or without ice, most times we would just set rocks or pieces of wood on the ground to mark the goalposts.

And occasionally, just occasionally, one of our group would come into a shiny red-posted goal complete with netting as an unexpected gift. We were terrible opportunists too. We’d invite someone to play with us just because they had their own net. No other reason.

Such a treasure. A real goal to shoot balls and pucks into.

With a real net, when you scored a goal there was no need to run 50 metres down the road to retrieve the wayward tennis ball “puck”. It stayed inside the net. Luxury. 

School homework and projects had to wait until 8 or 9 pm so that the last slapshot – the last slapshot that scored the settling goal, aimed at Dave or Hugh or Larry or Jerome playing goalie – could be enjoyed in the chilly night air.

When it was time to wind up the night’s play, we’d all agree that the next goal would be the winner. Didn’t matter if the score was 7-2. “Next goal wins!” The excitement of scoring that winning goal was intense.

And finally, when the cold weather had settled in with determination in Southern Ontario, there was ice on the outdoor skating rink at Parkdale Arena. Organized hockey could begin.

The Parkdale Steelers, my hockey team for the season, would contact me and I had a schedule of upcoming games.

In my really young years I was a hockey star.

This was mainly – solely actually! – because few kids had spent enough time on skates to stay on their feet for more than 5 or 10 strokes across the ice.

My Mom’s homemade backyard rink and a couple of season’s skating help from my sister Betty and brother Gord had me well trained for remaining upright and also to hold a puck on my stick blade for a trip the length of the ice surface.

I had done my 10,000 hours of preparation with icy-frozen toes to show for it.


Hockey Stars in backyard training… brother Gord and me in my CCM’s and newspaper shin pads dropping the game puck …

By default I was the “hot” scoring ace for a few years. Nobody could stand long enough to stop me. To this day I still possess and treasure my MVP patch as the Wayne Gretzky of my Atom hockey league.

With each passing hockey season, the magic drained from my skates and I became just another body on the team. Other kids grew bigger than me, stronger than me, faster than me. I loved playing still but my “star” turn was over.

I stopped playing hockey a few years ago.

Nowadays I only skate a couple of times each winter, usually indoors but sometimes I get up into the Okanagan hillsides where outdoor skating is still a winter pleasure.

When my skates come into contact with the frozen water and I hear the cutting, swooshing sound beneath my feet, I feel the same elation I felt as a kid.

The ice rises up and gives me a warm sentimental hug and says… “get out there kid and score some goals“.

And for a few moments in my mind, I hear my friends’ echoing voices shouting under the streetlights with snowflakes rushing past, I see the satisfying swish of a tennis ball in the back of a net, I smell my Mom’s vanilla-scented shortbread.

I feel a happy December warmth inside like James Stewart returning to Bedford Falls after his fateful winter’s night with Clarence the Angel.