"That's a long way from your heart."
That was how coach Larry McNabb would tease his Nanaimo Clippers who were injured, or looking injured, when he wanted them to know he needed them in the next hockey game. The obvious inference was that heart trumped pain, and those that were under the weather or were bruised/limping/battered, could dig a little deeper to get out there and take one for the team.
Larry's line was no different than any other coach of the day. If I recall correctly, every time he used it, it produced a laugh or a groan. Of course, those that really couldn't play, didn't. But there were lots who played when they probably shouldn't have. That's what hockey players did.
Bravery. It's a Canadian thing. Hockey is our game, and along with that comes the assumption that, at some point, you're going to play in pain. No pain, no gain.
We couldn't help but remember how Bobby Baun of the Toronto Maple Leafs broke his leg in the sixth game of the 1964 Stanley Cup finals, finished that contest and didn't miss a shift while winning Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings. Young goalies admired the courage of Ed Giacomin and Gump Worsley, who played in the National Hockey League without a mask. After getting whacked in the face from slap shots, they'd get stitched up and skate back out for more punishment. Real men. Great scars. Good stories.
I think it was the first year I played goal, and I wore a ghastly mask that made Ken Dryden's look like a Michelangelo original. One puck struck above the mask and cut me for several stitches. I was taken to get sewn up, and went back to the rink, but wasn't allowed onto the ice. I was so disappointed. You know, what would the Gumper do? I've watched lots of teammates suck it up and play through pain. When they do, they almost always play better. Why? Is it a power transfer from one maimed limb to another? The thrill of triumphing over pain? More fun? As one oldtimer hockey player once mused: "If I stay home, it hurts. If I play, it hurts. So I may as well play."
Watching the World Series, it's obvious that a number of players are in less than perfect health. Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig of the St. Louis Cardinals are the most visible, yet they play on.
How many more chances do they have to win a world championship, or to possibly be this year's version of Kirk Gibson of 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers legend? Playing in pain, for fun. Really? One summer, after big Norm Maybin landed on me when I was playing second base in a slo-pitch game at Pioneer Park, I suffered a separated shoulder. I was finished. Except my uncle Les was coaching the Wellington Hotel, and I'm pretty sure he told me my left arm was "a long way from my heart." I couldn't lift it above my shoulder, but he somehow convinced me to bat left-handed. I did, in piercing pain, because I couldn't let Uncle Les down. Besides, he was a great cook.
To this day, every time I swim, my left shoulder clicks. It doesn't hurt, and of course I remember it's a long way from my heart.
Contact managing editor Mark A. MacDonald at 250-729-4224 or email: MaMacDonald @nanaimodailynews.com
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