Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

One quirk about being Canadian is watching the playoffs long after the ice has melted off the ponds. Part of me still thinks hockey should end when the rinks melt, and the boards fall over. We should be making rafts out of the hockey boards and pushing our way around the pond with broken hockey sticks by now.

The Montreal Canadiens have just eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of playoffs and are on their way to defeating Winnipeg.  Full discloser, I have always been a Montreal fan.

This goes back to the days when the NHL only had six teams. As a child, I imagined playing for Montreal with Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante in goal, Henri Richard, and Gilles Trembley. I was in heaven.

Rocket Richard with young fans

Legend has it that I was named after Rocket Richard of the Montreal Canadiens. My parents, fresh off the boat from Holland, wanted a Canadian name for the first child in Canada. They named me William, after an uncle who died just after the war and Richard after Rocket Richard. Rocket Richard won eight Stanley Cups and his brother Henri Richard, who often played on the same line, won 11 Stanley Cups. In my dreams, I won hundreds of Stanley Cups while playing for Montreal on frozen outdoor rinks with my friends. Yes, I often got the winning goal. For some inexplicable reason, I’ve never seen a hockey card of myself. The stats on the back would be too overwhelming for regular mortal NHL players, and many of my goals were made while I was alone on the ice at night with no witnesses.

A few might quibble about all the goals, but facts are facts. I fully experienced the complete joy of hockey. By stepping onto the ice at night, I had found the backdoor to heaven.

I was William for a few years until people started calling me Bill. Bill means half-ass in Dutch, whereas Billen is a complete pair of glutinous maximums. Being a Bill (half-ass) was worse than being a Billen (full-ass).

My horrified mother changed my name to Richard when I was about five years old to save the family the embarrassment of harbouring a “half ass’ kid. As fate would have it, Richard was a name that would soon develop its own complications. She called me Ritz, which is what Rich sounds like if you have a Dutch accent.

In my class of 14 kids, three of us were named Richard, probably influenced by the Richard brothers of Montreal. The teacher found three Richards confusing, so some of us had to change our names. We ended up with Big Dick, Little Dick, and Rick. My name “Big Dick” was more related to biomass than the size of any appendage. Little Dick was tiny and would have blown away in a good wind. A few years later, in 1970 or so, the meaning of Dick changed to the one we are familiar with today. Who gets to decide which names will be maligned? I haven’t seen any baby Dicks for the last 50 years. I think Richard has lost some popularity despite Maurice Richard. The presidency of Richard Nixon didn’t help the name much either. He was seen as a real Dick.

Since Covid, I’ve been working on codes found in books published by Dr. Sudoku. I think he’s the guy who developed “The Nature of Things,” an excellent program that educates on all manner of scientific and nature topics. He started off studying fruit flies and must have developed these genetic codes. I’m getting very good at completing these codes but miss having anyone to marvel at my genius. Developing Sudoku skills seems to be without any long-term purpose, unless you can graduate to breaking codes that have, as of yet, no answers in the back of the book. There is a similarity between Sudoku skills and my hockey dreams. Both Sudoku and my hockey dreams don’t seem to benefit me or humanity. Where is a significant challenge that I can embrace that leads to growth and purpose? Where is the new dream?

It’s not unusual for boys to dream of playing for their favourite teams, including playing with their favourite players and getting the winning goals. I’ve literally had dreams of playing for Montreal with a bunch of dead former players that persisted through my 30’s, 40’s, and, dare I say it, into my 60’s. This can’t be good, can it? I have to make some room on the dream roster for some new dreams or some attainable dreams.

My rational self now enters these dreams and tells the young hockey player that I was, “No, no! This can’t be true! You’re too old to be a Montreal Canadien; you have two bionic knees! You’re slow, and you find it difficult to skate backwards or clockwise. The conversation between the older and younger self continues as the older self struggles to “wake up” the younger self and set me free of this recurring dream.

I can’t seem to lose the dream of playing hockey with the Habitants. I think it’s because this dream captures the most ideal images of what I believe heaven must be like. Skating on endless ponds with Rocket Richard, wearing our Canadien sweaters, and winning the Stanley Cup, is perfection.

Sometimes I see Jesus skating by in his Habs sweater, with a smile on his face. He has no desire to be the big scorer and is on the team to teach us humility and love. Jesus just plays for the love of the game and doesn’t care who wins. He does have perfect passes and has an uncanny sense of knowing where the puck will be. Jesus is a great guy to have on your team even if you aren’t playing for Les Canadiens. I think he has a closet full of all the team sweaters. When you join us on the ice in heaven, He’ll play on your team too.

No sense of heaven contrived by scripture or golfers can compare to the great hockey rink in heaven. Who wants streets of gold? Golf courses are bad for the environment, laden with herbicides, and probably banned in heaven. Sorry if I offended any golfers. We all have our own dreams. Go ahead and enjoy your hole-in-one experience.

I’d much rather have the cold fresh wind blowing across my face while skating on smooth, crisp outdoor ice.  A hockey stick and a pair of sharp skates, my Montreal sweater, and a few buddies who died years ago are all I need. The pure clarity of youth knows what I’m talking about. I think some of my readers do too. Keep your stick on the ice!

Heaven is a place I love

A place skated to once before

Wearing my Habs sweater and gloves

On a frozen river shore