Bidding for history

I went a bit nuts a year and a half ago and won an auction on a Canadian hockey collectables site. On Wednesdays, at Icy O’Briens training, you see all kinds of jerseys including a lot of novelty jerseys and I’m as guilty as anybody of liking the chance to wear bizarre and obscure colours on the night. With that in mind, I bid for and won a bunch of NHL Old Timer jerseys, as worn by creaky Hall of Famers and other probably long-forgotten NHL stars in exhibition games. My jerseys were mostly from the fifties, with a few Toronto-based ones from the seventies. I still wear one to training on Wednesday nights at Icy O’Briens and gave some as Christmas presents to the coaches that year, because every year I forgot to get them a present and then felt bad.

Lliam Webster rocks out one of the NHL Old Timer jerseys.

Lliam Webster rocks out one of the NHL Old Timer jerseys.

But the best thing about winning this auction was definitely not realising that the exchange rate was steep just then, or that the shipping costs were enormous, or that the other taxes and charges almost doubled the price of what I thought I had agreed to pay. No, none of those joyful discoveries were the awesome bit.

The awesome part was that the auction house people clearly thought, ‘Huzzah, we’ve got a live one in Melbourne, Australia, peoples!’ and have continued to mail me the catalogue for hockey auctions ever since. They arrive three or four times a year.

It’s spectacular bedtime reading. And it totally speaks to the dweeby history-lover in me as I’ve discovered how amazing and varied the names, nicknames and jerseys of hockey teams through the ages have been and continue to be.

The Fishermen. Damn, I wish I had the funds to have bought this jersey, just to wear around.

The 1920’s Fishermen jersey. Damn, I wish I had the funds to have bought this jersey, just to wear around.

Like a lot of people reasonably new to hockey, I only became aware of mysterious, now-gone NHL teams like the Whalers and the Nordiques as I delved deeper into the sport, and I find myself now actively seeking out strange towns, teams, mascots and leagues. Mysterious foreign outposts of the sport I’ve come to love.

This is where the auction catalogues are great. Brilliant team names and jersey designs of decades ago come back to life; some obscure, some just unknown to me. In my most recent catalogue, among endless signed sticks and jerseys by NHL stars, you suddenly turn a page to discover a gorgeous game-worn Selkirk Fishermen jersey from the 1920s (it sold for $C 533 – man, I’d love to wear that around town in winter). Wincingly-designed but funny are the jerseys of the Quebec Aces, an AHL team from the Sixties, or the magnificently terrible Calgary Cowboys jersey from 1975-76.

I even sort of like the world’s worst ever attempt at a shark logo on the WHA Los Angeles Shark jersey from that team’s inaugural season in 1972-73, which sold for more than $C 8,000, incidentally.

French Aces, and Canadian Cowboys and dubious Sharks.

French Aces, and Canadian Cowboys and dubious Sharks.

I’d love my jersey collection to include a Moscow Dynamo design from the mid Seventies but can probably live without rocking the colours of the Port Huron Flags. If you’re a Wayne Gretsky fan, you might have been keeping an eye on a lot last year, which featured the actually strangely hipster-cool jersey of a junior team he played for, the Sault Ste Marie Soo Greyhounds.

The mighty (and extinct) Seibu Prince Rabbits.

The mighty (and extinct) Seibu Prince Rabbits.

But beyond the catalogues, the list of intriguing, beautiful and often hilarious team names is long. It was through hockey that I discovered the Canadian town of Medicine Hat (go Tigers!) and through hockey that I found the now-disbanded Seibu Prince Rabbits in Japan. Or another team in the same league: the Nippon Paper Cranes. The Asia League also had a team from China with the unlikely name of ‘The Nordic Vikings’. It lasted one season; not able to match up with the more expected red and yellow power of the China Dragon team.

Australia’s national league doesn’t really light it up in this sphere. We have Mustangs and Thunder and Brave and North Stars and Ice Dogs (kind of funny), and Bears and Adrenalin. Plus, of course, the somewhat strangely-named Melbourne Ice (if it was a footy team, would it be Melbourne Grass?) But nothing to match the Fishermen, above. I’ve never missed Queensland’s Blue Tongues so much.

An unhappy turtle and Macon's sexy name.

An unhappy turtle and Macon’s sexy name.

Sports Illustrated once noted the existence of an American team (above) called Macon Whoopee, even featuring a bird and a bee on its jersey, while I am also a fan of the Mississippi RiverKings, starring a very grumpy turtle as their mascot. (I’d back the Red Wings’ resident octopus, Rally Al, to kick the turtle around if they dropped the gloves.)

As hockey moved into new American frontiers after the NHL expansion (almost 50 years ago exactly), lower level feeder clubs were created as well, meaning you got bizarre name attempts like the Orlando SolarBears or names mashing local history and hockey, like the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, apparently named after a train but featuring a bunny attempting to frighten grown hockey players. And while we’re there, a special shout out to the Toledo Walleye, a team that deserves a mention just because there’s something endlessly hilarious about the concept of a fish attempting to play ice hockey.

CRAZY TEAMS: Sun-loving hockey-playing polar bears and lump but cranky fish.

CRAZY TEAMS: Sun-loving hockey-playing polar bears and lump but cranky fish.

Look out! Cliff!*

Summer League - well, me and Jimmy - in full flight. Pic: Luke Media.

Summer League – well, me and Jimmy – in full flight. Pic: Luke Media.

I fell off a cliff when I was 15 years old. Well, technically, I was trying to climb a cliff when a piece of rock broke off in my hand and down I went. It happened in probably no more than a second or two. One moment I’m rock-climbing sans rope because, well, I’m teenager-stupid and clearly haven’t thought this through, and the next thing, I’m bouncing and falling through the air and bouncing hard and then lying on rocks at the foot of the cliff, right near the Airey’s Inlet lighthouse – for any Round The Twist fans out there.

But here’s the thing, and I’ve experienced it once or twice since: that second or so when gravity took over and my poor teenage body karoomed down that jagged cliff face: it felt like it took about a minute, and I can vividly remember it even now, almost exactly 36 years later.

I had so much time to think. In a fraction of second: multiple thoughts. From thinking, ‘Oh shit, that’s not good,’ as I looked at the rock broken off in my hand, nothing else to support me, to watching an empty detergent bottle at the base of the cliff rising up to meet me.

(I survived, in case you’re worried. Pretty bashed up but alive.)

At a lesser extent, I had that time-slows moment a few weeks ago during hockey training and it will not shock any even occasional readers of nickdoeshockey to know that my hockey mortality flashed before my eyes.

We were in Wednesday class warm-up and completing the seemingly innocuous skating drill of ‘superman with barrel roll’.

It would seem reasonable to think that the opening part of a superman – falling to the ice on your stomach – would be the simplest segment of that drill, but somehow this genius managed to screw that up. I still don’t really know how. All I know is that the very back of the blade of my left skate somehow bit into the ice and stuck so I instinctively stopped falling forward and tried to correct, which made my bodyweight go backwards and sideways, while my left leg didn’t give as it normally would.

I’ve covered enough AFL and other sport to see a lot of ‘Big Knees’ (which is what that industry calls a bad ACL tear that requires a complete knee reconstruction and a year of recovery). I know that usually it’s marked, even in an innocuous training incident, by a knee being bent in the direction it’s not supposed to go and having no give to escape the pressure.

I also know that they happen most often early in the AFL season, when the grueling pre-season training has left joints ‘exhausted’. And I’d been for a rare hard run the day before this happened, ticking another ‘impending disaster’ tick box.

And so we’re into that fraction of a second of endless think time as I feel the inside of my left knee screech with pain and I’m aware that my skate isn’t letting go of the ice, and if something doesn’t give, it’s inevitably going to be my knee that gives completely.

All while everybody else is doing superman with barrel rolls with the easy simplicity that you’d expect. It was like drowning five metres away from kids frolicking in gentle surf.

In the end, my hamstring took some of the strain, and the rest of my leg and so I got out of it with a medial ligament strain, which is nasty and hurts but means I still have a hockey season. It also means I’ve had to tape the knee for hockey, so that I have one bald knee among my otherwise hairy legs, which has been a great look in shorts-weather. But no, I’m not shaving both my legs. What am I? A middle-aged cyclist?

Hmm. Maybe Shane Warne should start doing dodgy hair-restoration adverts for knees?

Hmm. Maybe Shane Warne should start doing dodgy hair-restoration adverts for knees?

I’m about to embark on a major journalistic freelance project, which will involve following victims of major trauma, possibly for three or more years, as they attempt to recover. The strangest and most disquieting part of it is now, before we start, where the patients I’ll be following through the staff-only doors into hospital emergency and surgery, and finally into wards and then into rehab, currently have no idea that they’re going to be enduring this experience within a month or so, that this road is ahead of them.

Somewhere in Melbourne, people are going about their lives; picking up kids, playing cricket, doing the shopping, who knows … living daily life. And yet all that is going to change. As it will this weekend for some people, who don’t know an accident is looming in their immediate future, as it will for people being told today that they have a major illness. As it just did for a former AFL star –now-aging TV footy show panelist who made some unpleasant discoveries about the breakdown of his marriage last year.

OK, deep breath. I remain aware that such depths of life are a long, long way from an old man suffering a slightly strained knee in an ice hockey training session. Amen that they are.

But it’s worth thinking about, hey? If that ice rut hadn’t finally released my skate blade, taking the strain off my knee and leg, and allowing me to fall, this blog post would be a retirement one, crutches leaning on my desk.

Instead, it released, just in time, and so I was able to step onto the ice on Sunday to play MC TC and the Demons 3, and found – relief! – my knee carried my weight. Skated with joy, even if I was rusty and lacking game smarts after more than a week off the ice.

So happy this can still happen... Pic: Luke Media

So happy this can still happen… Pic: Luke Media

There’s a Buddhist teaching: when you wake each day, you should take a short moment to think: ‘I am alive!’ It sounds strange, given we are mostly blasé about our actual existence, and fair enough, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: take a moment to feel the air going in and out of your lungs. Stand up and stretch and feel the power in your arms and your legs; the wholeness of your body. Savour fitness. Savour being alive. Savour the passing stroke of your partner’s hand on your back, or the brush of loving lips on yours.
Savour two strong knees, if you have them, because it’s surprising how quickly and how easily it can all be taken away.

And having written this surprisingly intense blog, I’m limping back down stairs to buy another coffee.


  • For anybody who got the reference of the headline, this is for you: