The Great Lakes are 85.4 per cent iced over, or at least they were yesterday, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the U.S. federal body that monitors these things on behalf of science and shinny.
That’s an impressive figure by any standard other than that of impatient hockey players, or Canadians. True, most of us won’t make it out this winter with our Kohos, in our old Tacks, onto a frozen patch of Erie or Ontario or Superior, much less pick up a puck near Kingston and stickhandle it all the way west to Duluth. Still, to the rink born, we feel that such a stretch of ice should be available to us all the same in mid-winter, just in case. It’s what we’re owed, as Canadians — anything short of 100 per cent coverage is at best a disappointment.
If we’re not, at this point, calling it a natural national tragedy, that’s because we know what we’ve learned from all those flooding in our backyards: the freeze takes time. The good news is that the Great Rink is getting there: on Monday last, coverage was at 76.6 per cent. A few more icy nights and we should be good to go — maybe by the weekend, then?
In the meantime, maybe best to review the hazards of pond hockey. Hockey’s literature has been attentive to the dangers involved in venturing out on to natural ice, which you’ll know if you happen to have read all the hockey novels, only a few of which don’t include a scene in which the hero (a) falls through thin ice himself while chasing pucks and/or (b) rescues some other poor sap who didn’t listen and went under. I wrote about that in Puckstruck, citing some of the terrible fictional sounds associated with hockey/ice disasters:
• ominous creaking, anguished cry, crash (Lightning On Ice, Philip Harkins, 1946)
• silence (Pass That Puck! Richard T. Flood, 1948)
• “yow!” “crash!” “crack, crackle!” (New Heroic Comics, 1949)
• gentle splashing, shouts of people running (Brother of the Hero, Lev Kassil, 1968)
• “helllppppp!” (Forever, Roy MacGregor, 1996)
“In fiction,” I continued,
it’s a bit of a rite of passage for young players. If you’re going to learn the game, then you’re going to have to take a swim, losing if not your life then at least a boot. What often happens is that your brother Joe comes by with his hockey stick and lies down on his stomach and says, “That’s a brave boy” and “Wrap your arms around it and hold hard,” and so you do that, and he fishes you out and makes you skate to shore to get your circulation going instead of carrying you, which is smart. That’s what happens in Skating Today (1945), possibly one of the worst titled hockey novels of all, though still compelling as a story in its own hokey way.
You don’t, course, have to be a young scamp in a hockey story to have the ice betray you. It happens in history, too, to Russian armies at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Whether you’re fulfilling your birthright as a Canadian or retreating from Napoleon with your artillery over a lake in what’s now the Czech Republic, the lesson to learn is the same: as the Ontario Provincial Police like to remind us, no ice is safe ice.