It doesn't take long for ice to form on Montana ponds
and lakes when the first winds of winter begin to blow.
By the time Christmas arrives, there's usually enough
ice to support ice skaters and ice fishermen. While
I enjoy ice fishing, it doesn't beat skating on fresh
As a child, the two-week Christmas vacation from schoolwork
was always the traditional time to don ice-skates and refresh
my skills on the ice. My mother encouraged it, but I think
she had a hidden motive. Four rowdy boys in a small house
for two weeks straight is enough to drive any mother insane.
Whatever her reason, I had plenty of outside playtime during
My boyhood buddies, Hic Belcher and Darnit Stammer usually
had similar freedoms during the Christmas vacation season.
Any time you get more than two boys on the ice, the play
always turns competitive. To us, competition on ice could
only mean one thing, hockey.
Darnit and I didn't come from wealthy families. Hic had
those fancy skates with barbs on the front of the runners.
He didn't like it when we called them figure skates because
that was too sissy sounding. Instead, Hic called them custom
hockey skates. Darnit and I wore old second hand skates that
were handed down from relatives or friends. Three pairs of
heavy wool socks were required to make my skates fit; Darnit
needed four. Hic's skates fit just right, so he almost
always had cold feet long before Darnit and I were ready
Hockey sticks were easy to make. A couple of boards and
a few nails could always produce a custom-fit hockey stick.
I'm not sure I even knew exactly what a real hockey stick
looked like before I was 10, and the first one I owned was
one I picked out of a snow bank where someone had shoved
it after the blade split. A little tape, a little glue,
and I had a real "professional" stick like the guys on TV
use. Darnit and Hic were jealous.
Our biggest problem was finding a hockey puck to play with.
Those round rubber disks the rich kids played with were nice,
but we couldn't afford them. Rocks slid on the ice ok, but
they were too hard if you got hit with one. I'm sure those
guys missing their front teeth got that way by playing hockey
with rocks. We solved our problem by taking turns stealing
a roll of black tape from one of our father's toolboxes.
Hey, don't laugh; it works.
Three people don't make a hockey team. In fact, we had to
devise our own rules to make it work at all. The rules were
simple. You were goalie until you managed to block a shot.
The person with the puck was the offense and the other guy
was the defense until he got the puck; then the roles were
reversed until the puck changed possession or the goalie
blocked a shot. Then, the person who had their shot
blocked was goalie until he blocked a shot. You know;
electrical tape makes a fair puck, but it gets pretty
hard in cold weather. It's better to duck a shot than
to take a hit anywhere in the body. High scores were
One day Hic had the puck, I was the defense and Darnit was
tending the snow bank goal. Hic thought he was pretty good
on those custom skates he wore. He decided to try a trick
shot and slide the puck between Darnit's skates. He made
the goal, but the puck raised off the ice to about groin
level, forcing Darnit to duck to the side to avoid a career
singing soprano. When he ducked, his oversized skates slid
out from under him and clipped the heel of one of Hic's
skates. That caused those custom barbs on the front of
Hic's skates to dig into the ice and launched him into me.
My "pro" hockey stick broke in the middle from the force of
Hic's fall, Darnit was rubbing the new bump on his head, and
neither of us noticed that Hic was buried to his knees (head
first) in a snow bank. I suppose we could have moved a
little faster to remove Hic from the snow bank after we
noticed his dilemma, but it's hard to stand on your skates
when you're laughing your head off. When his feet quit moving,
we decided it might be a good idea to remove him from the
snow bank. "Snowman Belcher" didn't speak to either us for
the rest of the Christmas break.
We didn't play hockey again that winter. I had to make a new
stick, and Hic suddenly discovered his skates were too small
for his feet. For some reason he wasn't nearly as proud of
those custom skates with the barbs on the front of the runners
as he was at the start of the season. When he finally found a
used pair of real hockey skates, the ice was too rough for hockey;
but the skates were perfect. They were big enough to wear five
pairs of heavy socks, and his feet stayed warm as toast when
the games resumed the following winter. ~ AC