Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taking hockey back to it's roots

This story appreared on on January 27th.

Bruce Ely/The Oregonian
The Portland Winter Hawks, en route to a Wednesday game against Tri-City, made a stop in Enterprise today and spent some time practicing on the town's outdoor rink. "This is something that's wonderful," Mayor Irv Nuss said.

ENTERPRISE -- There are two stories here. One is about a sheet of ice and community. The other is about the need for an occasional detour, and the enjoyment found therein.
The Portland Winter Hawks could have traveled their usual route to Wednesday night's game against Tri-City, and it would have been just another one-game trip in the middle of a young team's rough season. But they didn't.

About a month ago, Steve Wasson, the Hawks' game operations guy, was talking with Jerry Moss, the team's community outreach guy. They were talking family, and Wasson mentioned his brother, Jake, was the assistant director at an outdoor rink in Enterprise, a town of a few thousand nestled against the Wallowa Mountains in Eastern Oregon.

Moss thought maybe the team could reach out to a faraway community and pitched to coach Mike Johnston the idea of taking a few players to the rink on the way to Tri-City.

Let's take the whole team, Johnston said.

"We almost fell down," Moss said.

That's half the story of how this afternoon happened, when a homemade sign and a few sparklers taped together welcomed the Winter Hawks to the Wallowa County Community Ice Rink, home of the Enterprise Eh?s, the one and only member of the Baja Canada Hockey League.

Bruce Ely/The Oregonian
Children in Enterprise were let out of school early today and were rewarded with hats and hockey pucks, courtesy of the Portland Winter Hawks.

School let out early. City Hall closed. A lot of people bundled up and came out to watch the Winter Hawks practice on Enterprise's sheet of ice.

"This is something that's wonderful," Mayor Irv Nuss said while, behind him, Moss gave away every piece of Winter Hawks merchandise the team was able to fit on the bus. Hats, playing cards, more hats, T-shirts, everything had to go.

This is the eighth year they've built the rink here in the city park. It's basic: plywood, hay, plastic lining, some fiberglass here and there, a little bit of carpet and a lot of love and work. Each year the rink comes together with some money from the city, some money from donations, some money from local businesses buying advertising on the end boards. Each year there's a ski and hockey equipment swap. The second-hand store sometimes has equipment. A sign on the door of Deb's Apparel on West Main says they rent skates.

In eight years, the rink has grown from an idea hatched on a frozen pond to a project with its own committee and a budget of a few thousand dollars.

That's how the thing came to be. The guys playing on the pond wanted something a little better. Pond hockey's great, of course. There aren't many hockey players anywhere who haven't played on a pond.

"That's all I did when I was growing up," Johnston said.

You go out, you mark the goals with boots in a snowbank and you play until you can't stand the cold. In the old days around here, on places like Wallowa Lake and Slinker's Pond, equipment was fashioned out of whatever you had and there's not that great a difference between a bike helmet and a hockey helmet anyway.

It's not much different now.

The Winter Hawks arrived in Enterprise early Monday evening, had dinner at Lear's Main Street Pub and Grill and then walked over to look at the rink. Before the coaches ever left the restaurant, players were returning, shivering.

The thermometer next to the rink read minus 3. The bank sign said minus 4.

Jeff Irish, one of the guys who's been playing since the pond days, skated off the ice Monday night with the strands of hair hanging below his helmet frosted with ice. More ice had piled up on his facemask. Standing next to the rink were Paul Spriggs-Flanders, another of the pond hockey players, and Andie Lueders who, among various jobs, also holds the title of ice rink manager.
Spriggs-Flanders' beard was icing up. Lueders was heavily bundled. Both were looking worriedly at a crack forming across the rink. Even the ice thought it was too cold.

Lueders set up the resurfacing equipment and retired to the bar for a beer with a few others.
By this afternoon, the ice looked pretty good. If there was any problem at all, it was when the Hawks' bus broke down outside of town on their way in for breakfast, which was followed by a trip to speak at the school. They arrived at the rink a little after 1 p.m. and hopped off the bus dressed in red. Everyone agreed it was a good look against the lowering sky.

Before they arrived, a banner welcoming them was set up. Bleachers were moved. A fire was started near one end of the rink. Coffee and hot chocolate and cookies were placed on a picnic table. Everyone chipped in. Wallowa County Sheriff Fred Steen, a regular player, gave a hand, had to go attend to police business, then returned later.

All the regulars were there to watch the Winter Hawks on their rink.

"That's really cool," Spriggs-Flanders said. "That's cool."

"I think it's awesome," Steen said.

Children piled up on the snowbank next to the rink, just about the time the Winter Hawks realized they could push one another into the snowbank. More snow began to fall, adding to the atmosphere.

"Look at it," goaltender Kurtis Mucha said. "It's awesome. Half the town came."

The city hopes to build a more permanent rink, but that'll be at least a few years down the line. Sometime this spring, they'll gather and take apart the rink. Next fall, they'll reassemble it, and even if the rink doesn't grow, the sport got a little bigger today when these two stories merged.
Aside from merchandise, the Winter Hawks donated piles of used equipment and, soon, two regulation-size goals will be delivered, courtesy of the team. Which created another problem.

"Could you leave two goalies?" someone asked after the announcement.

"We might," a staff member replied.

Ryan White: 503-412-7024;

No comments:

Oh Baby Vision

How to watch the videos on Oh Baby Vision

In the upper left hand corner, there's three horizontal lines. Click that once or twice and it'll bring up thumbnails of all the movies. Click on the one you want to watch and it'll start. It may play the next one automatically, or you may have to click the little box to bring the thumbnails back up.

Now with the addition of more videos, just use the scroll bar on the right to choose the one you want to watch.

I hope you like 'em

My CRC Connections

Jimmy's Eighth Birthday!

Countdown to Beaver Football

Countdown To Saskatchewan Roughriders Football

Countdown to Tampa Bay Buccaneers Football

Countdown to Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey