A comical and nostalgic description of a ragtag hockey team.

If the immediate goal of checking is to capture the puck, the ultimate objective is to intimidate the opposing players. Checking a player into the wall enough times robs the him of his ability and desire to compete, so naturally, a team focuses its checking on the opposing team’s star player. To prevent its star from taking such abuse, each team has a “policeman”, Typically this is the biggest, roughest, meanest man on the team. When seeing his star getting roughed up, he skates toward the perpetrator and checks him into next week.

The policeman for the Blades was Blake Ball, a tall, blond, muscular brute of a man whose deviated nose, missing teeth, and stitches on his face gave vivid testimony to his profession. The Blades’ arch rivals were the Long Island Ducks. Their policeman was Don Perry, who,but for his black hair, was every bit the equal of Blake. On one occasion the two teams played each other. Blake didn’t like what Perry was doing to the Blades, nor did Perry like what Blake was doing to the Ducks. The crowd anticipated the inevitable. The two men came together at center ice, gloves came off, and to the delight of all, the fight began. The refs let it continue until the combatants got tired of fighting and the crowd tired of yelling. The ref separated the two, and started assessing penalties. Blake, still revved up, protested his penalty, and in doing so, bumped the ref lightly with his stomach. That was it. Players can harass the officials verbally, but can’t so much as tap an official on the shoulder. Blake was ejected.

The game resumed. Now with Blake in the locker room, Perry had a free pass to clobber the Blades, and did so with abandon. After one particularly egregious check, Blake came charging out of the locker room, without his jersey, and headed straight for Perry. The crowd went wild. The building seemed to shake trying to contain all the sound. Eventually the fighters got tired of fighting and the fans of yelling, and activity settled down to a controllable level. Perry was sent to the penalty box, and Blake was re-ejected. Except for their egos, neither was hurt. Blake is probably the only one in all of sports to be ejected twice in the same game.

After the game resumed, a hat was passed around, partially filled with money, with the note, “Help Pay Blake’s Fine”. Who in their right mind would pay to help an aging, mangled hocker player who can’t control his emotions or play by the rules? Best three bucks I ever spent.

Fate must be a Hockey fan. Later that season, Perry was traded to the Blades, so now Blake Ball and Don Perry were on the same team. Usually the two took turns being on the ice, so the Blades players always had a brute of a policeman protecting them. When both were on the ice at the same time, the Blades shooters had time to eat a sandwich before taking their shots.

Time passes. In 1972 the Blades were disbanded and the Arena demolished. The city built a new coliseum and contracted an American Hockey League team to use it. This new, higher level team was to be the New Haven Nighthawks. High level hockey spread throughout the country. The National Hockey League expanded the number of teams in its league. The Nighthawks joined the expanding American Hockey League, whose caliber of play was lower than that of the National Hockey League, but still very good. Fighting was much less common. The players were consummate professionals and felt that fighting distracted them from their game.

So to see good hockey, all you have to do is go to the nearest mid-size city. There you will find a team from either the National or American leagues, showing off their elegant skating, pinpoint passing and accurate shooting. You will see goalies who could block pucks shot out of canons. If you want quality hockey, go to one of these games. But if you want great entertainment, nothing beats the old New Haven Blades.

 

 

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