Sports Guy: Forever My Home

Ponky has been a home away from home for thousands of local residents. (Mike Barucci photo)

Ponky has been a home away from home for thousands of local residents. (Mike Barucci photo)

It still doesn’t feel real to me. Maybe it’s because I no longer live just down the road, or haven’t skated there in a number of years. More likely, it’s because the roof collapsing at the rink I literally grew up in is something I just don’t want to believe is true. Okay, “literally grew up in” may be a bit much, but looking back through the formative years of my life, the rink was a constant.

I remember being there in the years soon after I learned to walk — my father helping me tie my skates and get all my gear on, chatting with other parents as us kids sort of looked around the locker room incredulously that we were somehow going to learn to glide around on the slippery surface with knives attached to our boots. Once the parents felt the skates were tight enough, the pads were fastened correctly and the masking tape bearing our names was applied properly to our helmets, we were kicked out of the nest onto the ice to learn to fly. I’d like to say I will never forget the first time I stepped onto that ice — that it’s forever burned into my memory — but that’s not the case. I do remember the milk crates, double stacked and held together with zip ties, which we leaned over and held onto for dear life so we wouldn’t (immediately) fall over.

After a hard day’s work on the ice, us kids always needed to stop at the snack bar before leaving the rink. Fried dough, pizza, an array of sweets that would make Willy Wonka himself blush, and much more was always waiting behind the counter. The candy was affordable on a 7 year old’s salary — usually 15 to 25 cents each (35 to 50 for the good stuff) — but the pizza, fried dough, and bottles of All Sport were out of our pay grade. Luckily, the parents who woke up at the crack of dawn to get us to the rink were always willing to pony up so we could indulge on the ride home.

I remember returning to the rink some nights after learn-to-skate as a spectator, watching Canton High School play and thinking that the players on ice were giants. I had a rather large collection of pucks growing up, and I think over 75 percent of them came from those games at the rink. A puck would go over the glass into the stands, and then the mad dash under the stands to retrieve the treasure would start. Besides a few bumped heads, there was surprisingly little injury in these conquests.

I remember getting older and going to free skate. Sporting my green corduroy Canton jacket (which I still have by the way), I would work in conjunction with a few other delinquent friends so we could scrape as much snow as possible against the boards and make snowballs to throw. The snowballs would catch the attention of the red coats — kids a few years older in their “guard” jackets — and we would have to sit in the penalty box for a time out. When we got out, we would play a quick game of “let’s steal someone’s hat and not give it back until they catch us,” which would also sometimes land us back in the sin bin. A few years down the road, we were the ones chasing the delinquents, trying to stop the games of keep away and destroy the piles of ice shavings against the boards before kids had a chance to create their snowballs.

I remember playing youth hockey from Mighty Mites to Midgets. I wasn’t very good, probably a few clicks below mediocre, but I had fun. One of my most memorable youth hockey teams was “Rooney’s Rockets,” coached by my neighbor, Mr. Rooney. I grew up playing all types of hockey with the Rooneys — mini hockey in the basement, street hockey in the driveway, and then eventually ice hockey. It would be only fitting that Bryan Rooney would set me up for my only career varsity goal years down the road.

After not making the cut for varsity my senior year, Coach Shuman graciously invited me to be on the team as a player/manager. He said he would get me on the ice as much as possible, and he did. The game I scored, there were shifts he refused to let me come off the ice. I would huff and puff out of the offensive zone to get a breather, and Shuman would point back at the Foxborough net, not allowing me to get off. He told me to plant myself in front of the net, and the rest of the team went out of their way to set me up. I likely missed a large number of perfect passes, but the team kept trying to get me that goal. It was finally a pass from Bryan that landed on my tape in front of the net, which I oafishly steered towards the net and in.

We were winning by a lot at that point — I don’t remember exactly how much but by more than a few goals — and the rink erupted. The team went crazy, surrounding me on the ice. That is a moment I can say with confidence I will never forget. Back then it was just a goal. Don’t get me wrong; it was awesome, but was still just a goal. Looking back now, I can see it was the manifestation of a lot of people going out of their way to give me a special moment. I had watched the seemingly larger than life varsity players scoring goals in Ponky Rink my whole life, and in that moment I was one. I will never, ever forget that.

These are just my memories — in fact, just a fraction of my memories from Ponky Rink. My hope is after reading this you may take a moment to reflect on your own. The roof caved in, the building may never be rebuilt, and skates may have touched down on that ice for the final time. But the memories are forever.

The Canton Sports Guy appears biweekly in the print edition of the Canton Citizen. Have a question or a comment? Send to

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avatar Posted by on Mar 5 2015. Filed under Featured Content, Opinion. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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