I'm trying to translate the phrase "street hockey" into Italian. Miriam says it's hockey da strada, and I'll take her word for it since she's the only Sports Illustrated staffer in Turin with an Italian passport.
Being from Udine, Miriam's probably not too familiar with log cabins, though I think she'd like the one set up in Piazzale Valdo Fusi. A couple of days ago I read a small story about British Columbia-Canada Place, which has set up shop just south of Piazza Castello as a way of introducing the Turinese to the province of British Columbia and the upcoming Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.
Canada Place is a log cabin built with wood salvaged from pine beetles. Outside the cabin there's a giant sign with six-foot-high letters that reads "VANCOUVER 2010." There's also a rink for street hockey.
Let me repeat that: Street hockey. Ball hockey. Foot hockey. Call it what you will. The game of choice for American lads such as myself when Atari ruled the computer world and thirtysomething was a TV show.
I corralled photo editor Nate Gordon, art director Chris Hercik and technology guru Mike Wolf to Piazzale Valdo Fusi to defend our country's pride. Proving as adept in diplomacy as he was in designing the Swimsuit Issue, Hercik had already chatted up Dan Shimotakahara, the B.C. Canada Place technical consultant and house host, by the time we got there. Dan agreed to extend the hours of play so we could test out the Italian pavement. The bucket of sticks came out. Then the net.
As soon as we started choosing our sticks, a gaggle of Canadians surrounded us. Sides were drawn. We took on a team of four Canadians, which morphed into four Canadians and an Italian, which morphed into the four of us against an artist and his wife, a member of B.C. Canada Place and what seemed like an endless supply of local nine-year-olds. The artist was Gordon Halloran, whose Paintings Below Zero exhibit is on display at Fortezza di Fenestrelle, the largest military fort in Europe. Upon skating over to his Web site, it's clear Gordon's an artist when it comes to ice (his form is abstract paintings on large ice surfaces), but he's also an artist on the ice. He's 57, but the guy was controlling play like he was Bobby Orr. His wife, Caitlin Hicks, played on the same line, and for a while it was like facing Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. We stayed in the game merely because Wolf proved to be surprising adept in goal, despite the fact that he was shooting photos while tending net. Trying to pump our team up, I started trash-talking the kids on Gordon's team. Bad plan. They only spoke Italian.
Gordon was officially invited by his country to represent Canada at the Cultural Olympiad and had previously placed his art under the surface of arenas such as the World Figure Skating Championships in Edmonton and Calgary's Olympic Plaza. Soon Gordon's wife started to surface in our zone, constantly forechecking and disrupting our offense. These Canucks from Vancouver clearly could play.
The author (left) netted three goals as the United States avoided an international incident with a 7-7 draw.
A crowd gathered to watch us, and the orange ball managed to hit a couple of Italians walking in the square. One wayward shot ended on the foot of an Italian women who didn't break stride on her cell phone when she stopped it. The teams were matched evenly, which speaks to the fact that all the SI staffers are getting old. We survived a heavy onslaught from Gordon and his wife as well as the late roster addition of a 6-foot-4 dude wearing a Canadian jersey who was as big as Scott Stevens. I'm proud to say I got the Stars and Stripes on the board with a lovely wrist shot from 12 feet out. At 3-3, Wolf made a save off Gordon that left the Italians watching on the sidelines in awe. Nate was tough to get out of the slot and a menacing forechecker, but he was stopped cold on three occasions by a nine-year-old girl. At 7-7 we decided to call it a draw, giving in to democracy as well as much-needed oxygen. I'm proud to say I netted three for the good guys, though admittedly one of my goals came against an Italian goalie born in 1998.
BC-Canada Place communication manager Paul Welsh met with us afterward and told us the house had already been visited by more than 35,000 people. Welsh said that following the Games the cabin will be given as a gift to the city, which will probably turn it into some version of chocolate.
When deciding on the killer app to bring people to a log cabin in Turin, Welsh said his communication group put three ideas on a board. The third was setting up street hockey games. What were the first two?
"I don't even remember anymore," he said, smiling.