Klonsinski: No comparison to a night on fresh ice
Zach Klonsinski | Wednesday, November 16, 2016
The luxury and expanse of Jerry World, the location and history of Madison Square Garden, the lore of Augusta National and the Old Course at St. Andrews: Any discussion of the best sports venue in the world has to include categories and venues like these.
The best sports venue in the world has to have history. Its very name has to evoke emotions and passions in the hearts of those who hear it. It has to be a place whose visitors understand the hallowed ground upon which they tread, and a place that doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is. And, more than anything else, the ultimate sports venue has to be accessible.
It has to be a pond.
Specifically a frozen one, or other expanse of solidified water, ideally in a park somewhere a little ways off the beaten path. It’s best on a winter’s night — one that’s cold enough to grab at your lungs for those first few deep breaths but where you can be perfectly comfortable in a medium to heavy sweatshirt, beanie and hockey gloves.
Big snowflakes lightly drift to the earth on a windless night, the type of snow that deadens all sound around you. All sound except the crisp cutting of steel, muffled clanging of wood on ice and the slap of a puck landing perfectly flat on a surface that can be anything but.
Light comes from a soft streetlight or two and falls uneven across the skating surface, its shadows revealing every little bump, ridge and hole in something that often resembles the surface of the moon more than a freshly cut sheet in an NHL rink. The puck, sticks and blades catch in all of these little crannies, keeping the game lively and unpredictable. But after just a lap or two, a skater doesn’t notice anymore, instinctually understanding how to shape the play to match the ice surface.
This is a place where hockey was meant to exist, where it will always exist and where it came into existence. Every sport has some sort of similar origin: Soccer purists can claim any small patch of grass or concrete as their own pond, and any open patch of concrete can become a basketball court.
But there is nothing greater than an open patch of ice in a snow that wraps a cloak around its skaters, shielding them from a world, even if just for a little while. A pond is an escape to hockey’s roots, and there is nothing better.
Out here, there’s no WiFi to connect to, and it wouldn’t do any good even if there was because the cold kills your phone well before it even begins to touch your spirit. Ice has been known to break a few of those anyway, and your friends might just decide it makes a good puck if they’ve finally lost all of the ones they brought in the snowbanks that ring the ice surface.
Out here, there’s no grounds crew to take care of things: The night’s warmup might just be the group going back and forth, back and forth across the ice sheet with shovels — or even just stick blades in more desperate times — to clear our own playing surface. And on those perfect snow nights, losers of the most recent game might just have to run through the whole process again.
Out here, there are no giant television screens, $10 beers or giant pyrotechnic displays; no #hashtags, gimmicky promotions or side attractions designed to keep a crowd engaged. Out here, the game is the experience, and that’s more than enough to keep us coming back.
The ice comes and goes with the seasons, here one day and gone the next. Sometimes it’s fleeting, and other glorious years, it just never wants to go away. Conditions can change so much from day-to-day, hour-to-hour that you can never really know what you’ll get until you’re out there.
And that’s why when your friends call you up and tell you to get down to Beale or Southside or Main Street or wherever the local spot happens to be, you grab your skates, throw on a hat and let everyone know you’ll be back at some point — maybe. Actually, who knows?
There’s no final buzzer at the greatest sports venue in the world.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.