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Off Kilter: Frozen ponds and ice skating rinks


Last updated 4/3/2020 at 3:42pm

For those of you who have lived in the northeast, we have a rich tradition of ice skating on frozen ponds, lakes, etc. in winter.

Unlike greater Seattle, which rarely gets a cold snap sufficient to freeze even a small pond, back east the winter ice skating season can last from late November through mid-April.

Rule of thumb – the ice should be thick enough to support you. That generally means at least three inches of ice. In all the years I skated on frozen ponds, I never got close to breaking through the ice. But on occasion you would hear the ice crack as you skated over it.

Couple of things noteworthy about pond skating. First, the ice is never smooth – like you see on a hockey rink. Instead, the ice has lots of high and low spots. This is caused by the ice freezing in a non-linear fashion. Sometimes it is caused by a tree branch being imbedded in the ice and sticking up through the frozen surface.

So you have to be careful not to trip over an irregularity in the ice. I've tripped on many occasion. One time, I actually partially dislocated my hip joint such that I had a difficult time walking back to my cousin's house afterward. I remember my mother being "very concerned" such that she took me to our family doctor (whose office happened to be directly across the street from our home – in the basement of one of the houses over there).

So he took an x-ray. Back in those days, there was an actual film, which you'd put up on a "lighted surface" on which you could see the complete image.

Our doctor looked at the x-ray and said to both my mother and I: "What does that look like?"

He was talking about a small line that was clearly visible right around the hip socket. Of course that made my mother quite angry. Here was our doctor, the "expert" asking us what we thought the line was. My mother said something like: "How the hell should I know what that is?"

The doctor consulted with his medical textbooks (too bad we didn't have WebMD back then) and he concluded that the line was simply a place where my immature body (I was about 15) had not fully formed yet. That it was nothing to be concerned about and that I should simply take an aspirin and go to bed. Sure enough, the next morning I was back to normal.

You've all probably read somewhere that it takes approximately 10,000 hours (that's about five "working years") to get really proficient at something. Well, frozen pond hockey is where a great many college and NFL players learned their craft.

On our local pond, if you went out there any time from say 2 to 6 p.m. (dark) on a weekday, or anytime during daylight hours on weekends, you'd find some of the local kid hockey players playing out there for hours every day.

I can recall a few players becoming so good after doing this for two or three years (for two to three months/year) that you watched them in awe at play. As we were at the start of the NFL playoff season – until the season was suspended as I watched the games, it brought back memories of watching some of these very young players develop.

The "best of the best" NHL players can truly do amazing things on ice skates. I watch them at work and simply cannot believe how facile they are. You watch a play develop and in a few hundredths of a second, they can direct the puck past the goalie into the net.

Next, major ice skating rinks: The "granddaddy" of all public ice skating rinks is in Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center ice skating rink. Located directly in front of the Rockefeller Center Office Building (where the NBC television network is located) in mid-town Manhattan, you can rent ice skates there, and skate directly in front of the great statue located just behind the rink. In early winter, that is the spot where they put the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. Many movies have scenes shot on that rink. Movie scenes shot at Rockefeller Center rink.

But by far, the greatest hockey ice skating movie, to me, starred Paul Newman, and is called Slap Shot.

Hockey players are among the "least well behaved people on earth" as the scene above from Slap Shot shows. They are very "rough and tumble" people.

Reminds me of an old joke: A man is called into his boss's office. He is told: "we're transferring you to head up our Toronto office".

The guy says: "Toronto?? – There's nothing there but hockey players and whores"

Boss says: "My wife is from Toronto".

Guy says: "Which team did she play for?"


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