My Life as a Stirling Blue

Posted: December 7, 2011 in Hockey, Sports
Tags: , , , , , ,

As a university student at a school that is at least fifteen times the size of Stirling, I can get rather bullish about my pride in my hometown and the people in it.  Stirling has shaped who I am and what I believe in, and a lot of that can be attributed back to my experiences at the Stirling Arena.

I grew up only a few doors down from the Blues Barn on West Front Street.  A well-stuck golf shot from my front yard would have put a dent in the old steel siding of the building.  The arena was there when I was born and I still go back there to watch games whenever I’m home from university.  It is an ever-lasting monument to what a community should be.

I remember the first time I stepped onto the ice at the arena.  I must have been somewhere between three and five years old (I’m not too sure on the exact dates) and I wasn’t wearing hockey equipment, but rather just a pair of skates and a bike helmet.  It was public skating.  I remember my Mom and Dad leading me around the ice and teaching me how to skate.  It didn’t seem like it would be the start of the building of a mystique that would last up to this very day, but I guess that when you’re that young and had never played hockey before, it is easy to see the arena as just another building.

I started playing hockey at around eight years old, fresh from watching Dominik Hasek steal gold for the Czech Republic at the Nagano Olympics.  From that moment, the Buffalo Sabres, home of our very own Rob Ray, became my favourite team and hockey officially—in Canada it’s only a matter of acknowledging it—my favourite sport.

My hockey career didn’t get off to a very auspicious start.  I remember that one of my teammates in Novice house league managed to convince me that a defenceman could go offside at his own blueline if he went into his own zone before the puck.  I think it’s safe to say that I didn’t spend long as a defenceman: I spent maybe half a season as an out player before trading in the shin pads, shoulder pads, and gloves for a set of goalie equipment that was rented out from the SDMHA.  I remember that the SDMHA had just purchased a new VIC black, green, and maroon blocker and trapper and at the start of each season I would make sure to be the first in line to claim them for the upcoming season.

Buffalo Sabres hero and my all-time favourite player, Dominik Hasek.

Eventually I graduated to my own equipment and the local glory that is rep hockey.  I was following in the footsteps of my hero, Hasek, although the goalie school I attended for a couple summers swiftly disabused me of the notion that Hasek’s belly-flop style was something to be emulated.  I can’t say that I was ever the greatest hockey player, but in Stirling hockey isn’t measured by skill alone, but rather by how hard you work for yourself, for your team, and for the emblem on the front of the jersey.

It is these things that growing up and playing hockey in Stirling taught me.  We took pride in how well we played and how well we comported ourselves as a team.  The community supported us no matter what, and any playoff game that we played in the Blues Barn was jam-packed with most of the town, not just our families and close friends.  We would take heart from this: why else do you think that our teams always seemed to win those home playoff games?

A big part of this was the recently passed Barry Wilson.  I have a special place in my heart for Barry and his family after years of being babysat by his wife, Kathy.  I remember the ever-constant face of Barry being there whenever I came over to the rink, whether immediately after school or early in the morning for practice, or late on a Saturday night for a league game.  Having that familiar face there all the time was something special in itself and Barry will be greatly missed by the Stirling community.

In short, and I probably could have saved everyone a bit of time if I had said this at the beginning, hockey in Stirling is a religion.  And, like the best religions, it leaves its believers stronger in heart, in mind, and in spirit.  I can say that of Stirling Minor hockey and I’m sure I’m not the only one.  Thousands of kids have passed through the system over the years and each one has participated in one of the best hockey programs around; there’s a very good reason why we played against teams from much larger centers than our own and did well.  The entire town, the kids, the parents, the people like Doug Fleming who stick around and coach teams even when their kids have long moved on are all to thank for their contributions to the SDMHA and their efforts in general.

At the end of the day, while I hope that my hometown can pull it out like so many overtime playoff games before and win the Kraft Hockeyville competition, I could really care less about whether the competition is won or lost because this town and its people are already winners on so many levels.  When I introduce myself to people I always have and always will introduce myself as being from Stirling, because being from Stirling is something to be proud of.


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