The game without boards
Posted by Dean Holden at February 16th, 2013
By Jack Blatherwick, 14 February 2013
The game without boards has some big advantages, not the least of which is: no dump-and-chase. No coaches yelling, “Chip it out; get it deep; finish checks; backcheck; forecheck; and HUSTLE (meaning skate around like the proverbial headless chicken, and accomplish nothing).”
There are no scoreboards, but of course there are winners and losers in every game to five. Pride and prestige are on the line, not some meaningless ranking. There is no loudspeaker music between whistles, because there no whistles, no zebras and no penalty box. On the outside pond, the obvious trip or slash requires an immediate democratic sanction, like giving up the puck or at least, offering an apology. There are no scouts, no agents and no loud parents, only the quiet ones with shovels and hot chocolate.
Of course there is no boarding or checking from behind. All shots hit the net, and all passes are precisely on the tape, or you have to walk through the snow or crawl on your knees across the dirt to retrieve the puck. (Note: you can probably tell by the intricate detail that this author has plenty of dirt on his sweat pants).
There might be a line change – once each hour – leaving just enough time to thaw out the toes and finish a sandwich. Then, when you return to action, you must bring someone with you to keep the sides even. We couldn’t allow one team to have a 10-on-9 advantage.
Puck possession is at a premium. No one would consider throwing the puck without making a play, giving it intentionally to an opponent. That’s a ridiculous concept, conceived by college and pro coaches, where wins and losses count more than cool moves and creative plays at the offensive blue line. Actually, risk/reward has nothing to do with blue lines, because there are none. It’s more about avoiding cracks in the ice.
It’s the purest game in the world, because motivation is all about sticks, pucks, dekes, deceptive passes and goals. Goals? Consider that goal-scoring concepts might be developed better on a pond without boards. Oh, we teach shooting, stickhandling, skating and hustle in our regulation arenas. X’s and O’s are easier to teach than the finer lessons of goal-scoring. Therefore, great goal-scorers are rare, and great forecheckers are a dime-a-dozen.
Just one example: Getting shots on goal (any shot from any angle) has become the rage in hockey at all levels. Add to that the natural tendency to carry the puck wide on rushes, because it’s easy. There is that moment where you can breathe without a defender all over you. So forwards learn it’s cool to skate down the boards toward the corner and take shots from bad angles rather than carry the puck across the middle the way goal-scorers often do (picture Gretzky and Ovechkin). But no one learns to shoot from a bad angle on ponds without boards; the penalty for missing the net is too great.
There are no plus-minus stats in pond hockey, except the one you keep in your head to measure your own competitiveness. No stat sheets at all. No moron wearing a suit and tie, doing expert commentary on the “number of hits” by team A. Of course, there are no suits and ties, just the right number of jerseys (and maybe gloves under the hockey gloves) depending on the wind chill. In a pond hockey game, highlight goals are the measure of a team’s skill, so no one bothers to count hits, except for the occasional bully who has to be reminded this is hockey, not football.
Fun is not limited to one hour … or two or three. Fun is not defined by league standings and celebrated by adults in the bleachers. There are no bleachers and no adults, except for those few crazy senior citizens who compete with wooden sticks and leather skates. Pond hockey is pretty darn good, but it’s not perfect. Alas, there are no Zambonis.