A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘If there’s a goal that everyone remembers, it was back in ol’ 72’

The Ice Chalet is a rink in Knoxville. Garret K. Woodward photo The Ice Chalet is a rink in Knoxville. Garret K. Woodward photo

The title of this column is the opening line of the song “Fireworks” by The Tragically Hip. A cherished Canadian rock act, the melody itself an ode to the legend and lore that is hockey and coming of age as a kid — a love of hockey transitioning to a love of women. 

That exact tune was echoing through my mind and thoughts last Thursday evening as I parked my truck in the parking lot of the Ice Chalet, located just a stone’s throw from the Kingston Pike in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Sauntering into the lobby, there was a small fireplace to the left, the sounds of a lone hard rubber puck ricocheting across the backboards and plastic glass of the hockey rink just through another door — the room temperature dropping from 75 degrees to a very brisk sense of air and self once inside the rink.

I was in attendance to meet up with my best friend, Andy. For several years now, he’s been part of a city hockey league. It’s a pretty casual thing, mostly either over-the-hill former skaters or die-hard enthusiasts who’ve taken the next step with sporting a slew of gear and diving headlong into the tireless yet bountiful activity.

It was a surreal — more so pleasantly familiar — feeling to step inside a hockey rink, this physical and emotional reminder of my youth, all of which originating in that small town of Rouses Point, New York, on the Canadian Border in the depths of frozen tundra (this time of the year) that is the North Country.

Wandering around the lobby of the Ice Chalet, I eventually crossed paths with the night manager of the rink, right between when he was throwing some hot dogs on the grill in the parking lot (for the league players following the culmination of the game) and returning to the ice post-game with the Zamboni ice-resurfacing machine to ready everything for tomorrow’s activities (ice skating and curling are also offered). I asked him about the rink and its history, etc.

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The Ice Chalet opened on Oct. 5, 1962. It would soon be run by a talented German ice skater and World War II veteran (hence the European ski chalet nature of the lobby/fireplace), who, by chance, was passing through Knoxville not long after the rink opened. He found a fondness for the space and ended up spending the rest of days running the rink and happily living in East Tennessee.

Gazing at the old photos on the wall, the antique skating gear and award plaques strewn in seemingly every direction, memories started flooding across my field-of-vison of the Rouses Point Civic Center on Lake Street — a building, more so social hub, amid a tiny community with an undying love for ice hockey and skating. 

To preface, skating is an ingrained part of the culture of Rouses Point and the greater North Country. In winter, when the National Hockey League (NHL) season reconvenes, so does the camaraderie of watching the games on TV (at home, at the neighborhood bar or local American Legion). Hockey (and the act of watching hockey) is part of my core existence. 

Being a little kid with the rabbit ears black-and-white TV in the basement of my parents’ farmhouse, watching the CBC’s “Hockey Night in Canada” and cheering on my beloved Montreal Canadiens. Being a college kid at Quinnipiac University where I got a work study job gig as the penalty box operator for the D-1 hockey team during storied ECAC matches (and eventual “Frozen Four” win). 

As North Country kids, we’d either have our parents drop us off at the open skate session at the RPCC or simply shovel off some snow from the nearby frozen Lake Champlain for a pickup game of hockey.

Usually we’d play pickup for a little while on the lake, a cold Arctic wind blowing down from Canada to the north, only to then skate endlessly in circles or up and down the homemade rink on the open water ice, dozens of ice fishing shantys in the distance near Stony Point Road along the shoreline. 

And there was always a pair of Bauer skates in the back of the closet in my childhood bedroom on Smith Street. In high school, I’d lace them up when I’d hit the Olympic Speed Skating Oval in Lake Placid, New York, in heart of the Adirondack Mountains. 

At that time, I was dating a girl who lived near Lake Placid in Saranac Lake. We’d go round-n-round the oval, all underneath the watchful eye of the Olympic Center, home of the “Miracle on Ice” moment of the 1980 Winter Olympics when the U.S.A. took down the U.S.S.R. 

Nowadays, being this far below the Mason-Dixon Line, I find myself usually the only soul in a sports bar asking “if I could get the Canadiens game on” the TV above the counter. Mostly, nobody pays attention to the “damn yankee” watching puck-n-stick competitions.

But, sometimes, someone will mention a mutual love of hockey, only to soon become fast friends by the time the game is over. Even with my best buddy, Andy, that’s exactly how we met. One night, over a decade ago, I walked into the now-defunct Tipping Point Brewing in Waynesville.

Sporting a Montreal Canadiens Guy Lafleur shirt, I sat down and asked for the game to be played on TV. Andy was sitting a few tables down with a Pittsburgh Penguins hat on. We immediately became thick as thieves and remain so today.

Thus, as the weather gets colder, the wind becoming brisk and the snowflakes sporadically cascading across Western North Carolina, so, too, does that eternal urge within to throw on some Canadiens gear and saunter into the local watering hole to catch the game. 

So, too, does the singular love of hockey that remains as pure today as it did those many  years ago in a small border town. Go Habs go.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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