For every player in hockey's major leagues there are 10,000 others—young and old, male and female—beating pucks around the rinks of North America. So precious is the available ice, at some rinks they play from midnight to midnight, resplendent in uniforms with the colors of their favorite big league teams. In any winter week a man with an open plane ticket and the stomach for undercooked miniature filets and coffee milkshakes can witness the game at every level. Come along for the view in coldest February; the plane is leaving for Toronto, where there is a rental car that is waiting to take us to the frostbitten community of Oshawa.
SUNDAY. Canadian Graffiti has nothing to do with carhops or roller skates; it is a junior hockey game in the Oshawa Civic Auditorium. The temperature is one above zero in downtown Oshawa, a city of 90,000 some 30 miles northeast of Toronto, and it is almost as cold inside the arena, so the crowd keeps warm by making enough noise to be heard in Vancouver. Mothers and fathers wearing Oshawa Generals lapel buttons swig coffee from Thermoses—or more potent stuff from pocket flasks. Kids wait in line for slices of mushroom pizza. Ten years ago a 15-year-old, towheaded defenseman named Bobby Orr introduced Oshawa to junior hockey, and ever since the citizens have had an eye out for another. The latest "new Orr" in Oshawa is 19-year-old Bill Lochead (pronounced La-head), who stands 6'1", weighs 190 pounds, looks like the Chicago Black Hawks' brawler, Keith Magnuson, and scores learly a goal a game for the Generals. A right-handed shot who plays left wing, Lochead will be among the first three juniors selected in the NHL's amateur draft his year, which means he probably will slay next season for one of the incoming expansion teams, Washington or Kansas City, or last-place California. "I don't nave a great shot like Richard Martin of Buffalo," Lochead says, sounding almost apologetic. "I score most of my goals from right around the net. I guess I'm a lot like Phil Esposito."
Cheered on by the raucous crowd, Lochead gets two goals in Oshawa's 5-1 victory over Ottawa. For the first he waits patiently behind the Ottawa net until the puck arrives, then moves in front and slides a forehand shot past the startled goaltender. For his second Lochead displays what scouts call his " NHL move." He breaks down the left wing, turns to the outside, skates around a defenseman, cuts back inside and fires the puck past the goaltender just before crashing into the post. "I've still got some improving to do," Lochead says, "especially on my defensive play." True. He obviously thinks checking is solely connected with banking.
The Generals pay Lochead the standard junior salary of $60 a week, and he earns another $100 for 30 hours of filing at Gen-Auto Shippers. His major expenses are $25 a week for room and board, $10 for gas and whatever he spends on beer. He recently borrowed "a few thousand dollars" so he could buy a new Firebird, his fourth car in three years. Anticipating a financial windfall when he signs in the big leagues, probably $400,000 over three years, Lochead says, "Believe me, it's a wealthy feeling."
MONDAY. It is the opening night of The Beanpot, the annual college hockey shootout among Harvard, Northeastern, Boston University and Boston College. The champion wins bragging rights around Boston for the next 12 months, as well as an authentic beanpot. Outside the Harvard dressing room in the Boston Garden, Billy Cleary, the Crimson coach, is saying, "I wouldn't walk across the street to see a professional hockey game." The night before, Cleary had walked across Causeway Street and into the Garden to see a game between the Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two of Cleary's 1973 Harvard stars, Dave Hynes and Bob McManama, were playing with the Bruins and the Penguins, respectively. "We used to graduate Nobel Prizewinners and Rhodes scholars," says V. Ambrose Harrington, Harvard '40. "Now it's hockey players."
Cleary insists "college hockey is a faster and better game than pro," and while the 23 pro scouts scattered around the Garden may not agree with that assessment, they are impressed by today's collegiate talent in the U.S. "We have to be," says Bruin Scout John Carlton, "because the Canadian base is shrinking." Besides Hynes and McManama, two other 1973 Beanpot skaters—B.C.'s Tom Mellor and B.U.'s Paul O'Neil—have played for NHL teams this season. There are nearly 30 former collegians on NHL rosters, while WHA games look like alumni-club bashes. The New England Whalers won the WHA championship last year with four players from B.C., two from B.U., one from Colgate and one from the University of New Hampshire.
In the Beanpot's opening game B.U. destroys Northeastern 6-1. "My team would make the playoffs if it had B.U.'s discipline, control and common sense," remarks one NHL scout. B.C. vs. Harvard is next, and when these schools meet the emotional highs rival those of Texas-Oklahoma football. The Harvards think the B.C. boys should drink their beer over on Beacon Street, not in Harvard Square, while the B.C. boys think the Harvards still overdo the Brooks Brothers button-down act. As the game begins there are more Harvard followers than B.C. boosters in the Garden, and the Harvard band drowns out the B.C. band in their first confrontation. On the ice the Harvards break a 3-3 tie on Bob Goodenow's penalty-shot goal in the second period, then pummel B.C. 11-6 in a game that is not as close as the score indicates. If B.C. Goaltender Ned Yetten had not delivered a premier Horatio performance, Harvard would have scored 20 goals. "Wait and see," Carlton says. "I'll bet you some scout here puts Yetten's name on his club's negotiation list within 24 hours." ( Harvard wins the Beanpot a week later by upsetting B.U. 5-4.)
TUESDAY. The Squirt League game in Oak Lawn, Ill., near Chicago, is scoreless late in the first period when a tiny defenseman in a red and white uniform fires a slap shot from the blue line. Coming from nowhere, Terry Philbin, who plays for the team in the green and yellow uniforms, dives feet first at the flying puck and redirects it out toward center ice. As play continues, Terry hobbles to the bench on one skate and starts to cry, "My foot, my foot." Theresa Philbin, 10, is in pain. "Shake it off," mumbles one of her male chauvinist teammates, "you're not going to die or anything." Two minutes later the little brunette is back in the game, and to celebrate her return she elbows the boy whose shot hit her foot.
Temperamental Terry and blonde, seven-year-old Melissa (Mike) Krolak have introduced lib to the otherwise all-male program at the Saints Spectrum. "They treat me like one of the boys," Terry says. "They tell me, 'You stink, Philbin,' when I hit them too hard." Melissa broke the sex barrier a year ago, although her teammates did not realize that "Mike" was a Melissa until the end of the season. "I was spending all my time here at the rink," says Bob Krolak, Melissa's father, who directs the program, "and my wife told me I wasn't being fair to Melissa. In other words, either Melissa played hockey or we got a divorce. I figured it was cheaper to have Melissa play hockey." So Krolak put "Mike" on the Bruins team in the Mite League. "I got dressed in my uniform at home," Melissa says, "and I always put on my helmet before I came into the rink. The boys never knew I was a girl, and they wouldn't know now if my mother hadn't made me wear a dress to the banquet last year. You should have seen the looks on their faces."
While Melissa plays, Krolak has a bitter argument with a father who claims his eight-year-old son does not get enough ice time. "My boy's the best player on the team," the father says, "and he should be playing twice as much as the other kids." Krolak shakes his head in disgust as the father walks away. "I've had it," he says. "Parents are the kids' worst enemies. They don't do anything except criticize. They live on half-truths and rumors. They come here once a week, yet they know everything about hockey. This man here can't get it through his head that we want recreation, not competition, for these kids. All he cares about is seeing his own score 50 goals. We just try to give them all equal time. I can't wait for the Little League season to begin."