(Until recently, we haven't been particularly aware of the Tampa Bay Lightning blogosophere [the Lightning-ogosphere? Bayogosophere? Lecavalierogosphere?], but it's heartening to know that the team possesses plenty of great bloggers. One of those blogs is Lightning Shout, which sports a sweet logo and bitchin' mission statement. Make sure to follow WB Philip's work as the team starts to transition from "Saw" level horror show to respectability.)
My first hockey memory involves a game between the Boston Bruins (52-0) and the Detroit Red Wings (0-52) in the cold winter of 1970. This original six matchup was played in Detroit, Michigan at the Violet Street Hockey Arena. It featured a Bruins team that consisted of Phil Esposito, four Bobby Orr look-alikes, and an unmasked goalie, Gerry Cheevers. The Red Wings touted their daily lineup of the Howe’s: Mr. Hockey, Mark, Marty and an adopted son named Jim, my brother. All players were seen smiling constantly during the battle, despite their inability to skate in any direction but a straight line. The technology was way ahead of its time. The players wielded metal one-piece sticks and skated on a hybrid surface made of painted particleboard. The game was played without a referee or linesman in sight and at one point, was delayed due to the combatants losing the only puck available. (It had rolled all the way under the sofa) Both teams were very flat and had trouble hitting each other.
The Bruins led the whole way, riding centerman Phil Esposito’s 16 goals to a comfortable lead! The Howe’s led the team from Motown, with the family netting a total of 14 goals. It was late in the third period when the game was halted for a bathroom break. What happened when play resumed would haunt me for the rest of my life! At the drop of the puck, the Bruin goaltender, Gerry Cheevers, suffered what can only be termed, a catastrophic spot weld injury and tumbled slowly to the fake ice. The Philp house rules vehemently stated that, “Once a player comes loose from his metal post thing, he must be removed from play immediately and may not return or be replaced during that game…unless mom says so.”
Those of you who are now part of the geriatric hockey set will recognize this scenario. Yes, the ice surface that comes in a box (assembly required)…Coleco tabletop hockey.
When you turned the rubber knob to strike the plastic, oversized puck (not the heavy one with the marble in it), you would here that unforgettable “TING” as the stick met the disk. All players had either sandy brown or jet-black colored hair and had that same psycho grin on their face. You know the look. It’s the one Matthew Barnaby used his entire career when he was agitating.
After Cheevers was yanked from the game, the Red Wings went on an offensive onslaught, scoring four goals in the last minute. The buzzer to end the game sounded in the familiar form that was my mom’s shriek, “Boys, put that god damned game away for a while!” It was over. Red Wings 18, Bruins 16.
December 24, 1970: A day that will live in infamy in the Philp household. I had shamed myself, the TTNHL (Tabletop National Hockey League), and most of all, the brotherhood of tabletop players…I had lost to my kid brother!!!!
As my brother paraded around the living room in his Heckle and Jeckle, footie pajamas (I hated those damn birds!) I found myself crying, but quietly happy for him. I had tasted victory so many times before that it had become a bland repast. Now I saw the hysterical glee on the face of my brother, whom I had destroyed 52 straight times before, and, for a brief moment, felt good.. I walked over to congratulate him on the victory and did what any good big brother would…I gave him a SUPER WEDGY!