It was a split-second decision on that frosty morning standing alongside the outdoor ice rink at Wheeling Park. This was before there was a roof or partitions that offered a buffer from the snow, wind and errant pucks.
It was considered real gutsy to play hockey on that ice rink in the early morning hours when the cold grips you down to the bone. It was even more of a challenge to stand there as a spectator to watch. You had to stomp your feet occasionally to remind yourself that they were still attached to your legs. But other than that, it was great fun. The hot chocolate was pretty good, too.
In that split second I mentioned I managed to duck my head quickly enough to have the flying frozen puck plunk me on the top of the head instead of straight into my forehead. Still the impact drove me to my knees as blood poured from the split in my now ringing head.
The rest was a bit of a blur - the trip to the hospital, the shaving of my hair so that my head could be stitched up. And when it was over, all I could ask was "Who won?" That's just the way it is with hockey. It's a rough and tough game for the players and sometimes the spectators like me.
Ohio Valley families who have experienced ice hockey at Wheeling Park and now at WesBanco arena, know that it takes a lot of effort just to dress a kid so he or she can spend up to 2 minutes at a time on the ice. For the novice hockey parents, it pays to watch a veteran lace up his or her skates. I learned there is more to it than just stringing laces through the metal eyelets.
And while hockey equipment is not cheap, there are equipment swaps and the good people out at Play It Again Sports in Elm Grove who make it more affordable.
Let's face it, as the kids grow, so does the cost of skates and pads and helmets so getting them second-hand works well.
It's exhilarating to watch and worry and cheer all at the same time at rink side. While the Wheeling Amateur Hockey Association - better known as WAHA - has in-house teams that play one another, there are travel teams that go all over the Pittsburgh area and Morgantown to play ice hockey on a different level.
It is always fun to witness out-of-town teams visit the Wheeling Park rink for the first time. Most of those players have never played on anything other than an indoor or bubble-covered ice rink. The WAHA players cut their teeth and skates on the outdoor rink where you have to be twice as tough to battle the elements and the opposing team.
There is something magical about being the first people at the rink on a snow-covered morning when the only sounds are the slapping of the pucks against the rink walls and blades scraping along the ice. It is not unusual to view a few deer wandering on the snow-covered golf course surrounding the ice rink. You can't get that at an inside arena rink.
This weekend may be focused on football (welcome Super Six folks), but there just might be some ice time worth looking into as well. All skate!
Heather Ziegler can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.