Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Putting it all on the table

As if the on-ice hockey competition at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver wasn't exciting and inspiring enough, what I saw during the closing ceremonies made me feel warm and fuzzy, transporting me to another time and place.

And it had nothing to do with the kinda-creepy Up-With-People-esque kids with snowboards, the opera diva flying through the air wearing a maple leaf or William Shatner -- who's always funny (but I have to admit here I didn't know he was Canadian -- sorry. Speaking of apologies, I didn't realize they were inherently Canadian, either). But I'm going off on major tangents here. Sorry, eh?

What I'm talking about were the giant table hockey players that floated around the floor at BC Place, and the simulated game that took place, featuring that little kid dressed up as a puck. For those of us "of a certain age," that unleashed a flood of memories and nostalgia. For me in particular, it took me back to my basement as a kid in Rockaway, N.J., when my friends Mark and Steve would come over and we'd play for hours on my Coleco New York Rangers table hockey game.

The game itself was huge; the end boards hung over the edge of my mom's card table, and a huge scoreboard hung over center ice. You would drop the puck through a slot in the top of the scoreboard for each face-off, and the scoreboard included a standings board for each conference. There were slots and cardboard nameplates for each city, which could be moved around depending on the "real-life" standings.

These weren't the molded plastic players you'd see at arcades, but rather the flat, metal variety, proudly smiling and wearing the uniforms of every NHL team. The Rangers' fiercest rivals at the time were the Bruins, so my game came with those two teams (I came to realize later that the default pairing was the Canadiens and Maple Leafs, which Coleco would modify depending on what part of North America the game was sold). But I took it a step further, buying players from every NHL team. We would spend as much time changing the teams between games as we did actually playing. When I wasn't using the Rangers, I would gravitate toward the Flyers -- though I hated the "Broad Street Bullies" as a kid, I thought the Flyers' orange uniforms with the flying "P" epitomized coolness.

We'd have tournaments, keeping all three of us involved. We'd play five-minute periods, timed with my mom's egg timer, and rotate through the two player seats and the third at center ice, which belonged to the PA Announcer/Referee -- an extremely important role. We would "broadcast" the games on my white plastic Panasonic tape recorder, after playing the national anthems of the U.S. and Canada, and religiously tallied the results of the games on a dog-eared yellow legal pad.

One of the best features of the game was the plastic "red light" that would signify a goal; when a puck entered the net, it would fall into a hole behind the always-grinning goalie and hit a plastic lever that would push up the "red light" through a cylinder behind the net. The player who gave up the goal would then react by slapping the red light back down, thus ejecting the puck from the net.

As referee, the third wheel would watch for those rare occasions when the puck would go "in and out" of the net without igniting the plastic lamp and rule a goal, often the tie-breaking vote in such situations. Funny how the vote was almost always 2-1, going against the one scored upon.

The more I write, the more I remember. But the time is short, so I'll continue my glide down the slots of memory lane tomorrow. Stay tuned.


Barbara said...

Great reminiscing about the "good ol' days"!

Barry Rubinstein said...

Thanks for reading!