When the frozen fascination began, I honestly am not exactly sure.
Maybe it was tuning into one of the hockey games NBC and CBS broadcast back in the 1960s.
Grown men on skates gliding over frozen water, blasting a six-ounce disc of vulcanized rubber at a net guarded by a brave soul, clad in protective padding from head to toe. Well, not always. Back then, a few of those brave souls did not wear masks. Neither did some of the players.
I found it fascinating. I was hooked. I was a hockey nut. A rink-rat.
My baseball career — and potential Cooperstown Hall of Fame induction — was over by then, thanks to a fall from a ladder at age 14 that forever changed my natural screwball delivery.
A stocky runt, at 5 foot 5, 150 pounds, there was no NFL in my future.
The NBA was certainly out. I rarely could make an uncontested lay-up mainly because I'd go off the wrong foot. I blame that on crossed-wired brain waves; I write left-handed and do everything else right-handed.
Perhaps hockey was my ticket to sports stardom.
Initially, my addiction would take me to Sayre Pond, the Chemung River cove (prior to the '72 Agnes Flood), a pond near Chemung, and later to real rinks in Corning and the Elmira College Golden Domes in efforts to hone my skills.
It took me to Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, Hartford, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston and New Jersey (I got to see Wayne Gretzky tally his 999th career point in Jersey in December 1984) to witness NHL games in person.
And it took me to Binghamton, home of the Broome Dusters in the mid-1970s, and Broome Community College, where from 1975-78 I was an official member of the fledgling BCC Hornet men's ice hockey program that was a charter member of the Finger Lakes Collegiate Hockey League.
Hockey and the Dusters were huge in the Triple Cities back in the 1970s. In 1974, I never missed a game. We even followed Dusters on the road, with road trips to Syracuse, Utica and even Johnstown, Pa.
At Broome CC, I was on the team three years, but saw action in only a handful of games — out of complete desperation I would guess.
As good as I may have been on the ponds, BCC was a whole new ballgame. I was by far the least talented. Most BCC players had been playing organized youth hockey for years at rinks in Endicott and Binghamton.
BCC's head coach back then was George Higginbottom. He was the Dean of Liberal Arts, who as a student at Harvard was an alternate member of the U.S. Olympics' 1960 men's hockey team that won the gold medal in the Squaw Valley Winter Games.
My hockey career was launched on that pair of Bauer "starter" skates I got for Christmas one year as a young teen. Not sure how much mom and dad shelled out, but it surely paled compared to the outlandish sum I would pay years later for a pair of Mark Messier CCM SuperTacks on sale at Cupolo's in suburban Buffalo. We shall not disclose the amount for fear you'd all say I should be institutionalized forever in a sanitarium.
Pick-up hockey at Sayre Pond was an event. If there was snow, we rink-rats brought snow shovels to carve out our rink.
I made two goals, both homemade, portable and regulation size. Netting was old tennis court nets, no longer needed by Waverly's Recreation Department, courtesy of then-director Joe Cummings.
Pond hockey drew quite a crowd. Included in our rink-rat fraternity were some local high school sports stars — the names Keir, Mattison, Bauman and Brooks come to mind. It felt good to be able to keep pace and even show these young bucks a thing or two on the ice.
Eventually, and somewhat miraculously, a star was born. Somewhere in the 1980s I would be christened by the Sayre Ponders as "Gretzky." On occasion, I even answered to "The Great One."
Perhaps, it was a combination of my icy prowess and my passion for the high-flying, four-time Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers, led by Wayne Gretzky. My guess is it was probably more for my Oiler loyalty.
Of course, even this Gretzky took a back seat when our good pal, the late Andy Rickert, came to play. Andy, for those who didn't know, had Minnesota roots, where hockey is sacred. He could play the game and skate circles around everyone, me included.
Okay, for those dying for a sneak-peek at Rolfeman's hockey highlight reel, here's the Top 3 countdown.
Drumroll please ....
HIGHLIGHT 3: In three years at Broome CC, I played in all of three games ... and scored one goal. Scratch that: Technically, I was "credited" with one goal, a blast from the point on a power play caromed off my skate, past the opposing goalie into the net as I was being crosschecked to the ice.
HIGHLIGHT 2: This was a frightening — and what could have been a life-altering or life-ending — event. After a devastating Broome Duster playoff loss to the Johnstown Jets in 1975, my good pal and hockey cohort, who had slugged down about eight too many Big Beers at the Arena, sought vengeance and winged rotten grapefruits at the Johnstown bus parked at the rear of the Broome Arena.
Several Jets players gave chase, hounding us for several blocks through Binghamton before we zigged, and they zagged. We took safe refuge at Tom & Marty's — back then a hockey hangout on State Street. I sat shivering in the restroom for about a half an hour.
HIGHLIGHT 1: By far, the greatest highlight of all came after an early morning inter-squad game my second year Broome CC. Conned into playing goalie for the first time in my life — it was an emergency; our backup netminder was away at a monasterial retreat — I experienced what was later described by teammates as a hockey hazing.
All soaped up and running a bit late for my 8 a.m. class, I was dragged by about a half dozen teammates from the shower, through the locker-room, the outer lobby and then tossed - naked as a jaybird wearing nothing but a few suds - onto the ice.
If that wasn't embarrassing, chilling and humiliating enough, my BCC comrades shut and bolt-locked the Zamboni entrance door, leaving me no choice but to go slip sliding away — OK, streaking — up to the player's bench area.
Which I did, much to the astonishment of a little girls' figure skating class warming up and about to take to the ice.
For those wondering, yes, eventually I did indeed get revenge. But that may or may not be future column fodder!
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