Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Extinction Of An Animal

In doing some preparation for the next Teebz's Book Club entry on this blog, it dawned on me that the author of the book I am reading was once a "rink rat", and that the rink rat is dying breed of animal. Rink rats are those kids who show up at an indoor rink and play as much as they can with whomever needs them to fill a spot on the ice. Goaltenders come at a premium, so being a rink rat with pads was the ultimate way to get on the ice for some additional playing time. But with the number of indoor rinks and the cost to rent indoor ice increasing, there simply are less rink rats to fill the void. Is the rink rat on the verge of extinction, or has the rink rat's environment simply forced him or her to find a new place to lace up his or her skates?

First off, let me say that the rink rat holds a very important position down in the world of hockey. He or she is the person that can change a five-person shoot-around on a goalie into a three-on-three game. More importantly, a rink rat with pads can be the difference between a "clear it to center ice" game and a full-length, end-to-end game. The majority of the time, the rink rat plays without paying for ice time as a token of gratitude towards the rink rat for helping out the shorthanded players on the ice.

But how many players do you see showing up an hour or two before their own practices with the hope that another team is short, thus allowing them the opportunity to be on the ice for additional practice time? Does this even happen anymore? Are teams that are shorthanded willing to let someone younger on the ice to fill the void?

There were times not so long ago where players would spend more time on the ice than in school. Mario Lemieux, for example, left school at the age of 16, having only completed up to Grade-10, to pursue his hockey career. While I fully expect and encourage all children to stay in school, Lemieux was clearly a rink rat who excelled at the game of hockey.

Sidney Crosby could probably be considered today's North American standard for a rink rat. Crosby spent a ton of time as a youngster in his basement, firing pucks at an old dryer. His family lost a battle with the Nova Scotia Minor Hockey Council when he applied at the age of 13 to play alongside 17 year-old players. Crosby was a straight-A student and worked hard in school. However, that drive and work ethic transferred over to the ice as well, making him one of the best players ever in Nova Scotia and in junior hockey.

So here's my question to you, readers: is the rink rat a dying breed of animal in the hockey world? Would you say that they exist at all, or perhaps in a different place? Does today's youth have the drive for excellence as shown by Mr. Crosby, or is he an exceptional case of talent plus work ethic? Will we ever see a true rink rat again?

And here's something to ponder: despite Canada's track record at the World Junior Championships, are we a nation that produces more rink rats than Russia or the USA? And does being a rink rat harm players more than it helps them, such as the case with Stefan Legein? Are we encouraging hockey burn-out by having players turn into rink rats?

Let me know in the comment section. I'd be particularly interested in hearing from younger readers about their rink rat abilities, and from parents of rink rats. I'm simply curious as to how rink rats are perceived, and how Canadian rinks rats may differ from any other nation's rink rats. Hit me up with a comment, and let me know what you think of rink rats.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Eighty-Two said...

What I've actually noticed in California is the older "rink rats."

In particular, at the old rink in Stockton, there's a 20-something year old guy who "works" at the rink, but is on the ice all the time. He's at every single pickup session, at all the stick-n-pucks, everything. But he's also the only one running the meagre pro-shop, sharpening skates and sometimes performing maintenance on the zamboni.