It’s a small cafeteria. Seats in groups of four surround round tables. The smell of hotdogs and French fries cover every air molecule like a blueliner on a streaking winger. The smell of fresh ice somehow diffuses through the glass. Parents chat about their sons and daughters playing hockey.
It’s a regular weeknight inside Ted Reeve Community Arena. The Thunder’s atom hockey team is on the ice.
Under the bustle of attentive fans, the arena’s workers are ensuring the facility is as sharp as the skates the players wear.
Robby Hughes is in the lead. Aside, he admits he does “whatever”, but uses the word operator to describe his job.
He’s been on staff for almost 20 years. He never thought as a child playing on that same surface he’d be the man to flood it in between periods.
“I can actually remember there was a guy on my street that used to work here, Al Sergeant, and he drove the Zamboni here when I was a kid playing hockey,” he said. “There was a commercial on during Leafs games, and it was a guy getting all dressed up in his tuxedo and he would go out. It was a Mennen Speed Stick commercial.
“So I used to call Al Sergeant the Speed Stick guy, and I don’t think he liked that too much.”
For Hughes, the arena is home. It’s where families come, gather and become friends. Some even returning after their children have all grown up.
There’s a grin that chops through his lumberjack beard.
“I always say that I’m lucky,” he said. “Even though it’s not a high paying job … I’ve never had a day where I don’t enjoy coming to work.
“You don’t want to say it, but you’d do it for free if you could.”
Back to the gathering crowd, Doug O’Keefe joins other parents, awaiting his son Joey to take the ice.
He lives just down the street from the facility named for the former CFLer and Toronto Telegram sportswriter.
“People ask, ‘Why does Joey play for Ted Reeve?’ and we live right next door to Ted Reeve,” he said. “It’s a nice organization.”
His son Joey is 10. O’Keefe’s two other children, Sean, 8, and daughter Shannon, 6, also take part in events at the arena, including Bob Acton’s hockey camp after school.
And there’s a twinkle in O’Keefe’s eye when the Newfoundlander, living in the Beach since 1997, shares his own arena experience.
“I play hockey here on Friday nights,” O’Keefe says. “It’s a league called the Loose Ends Hockey League or Association I think.”
Eight teams of men, ages 30 and up, suit up for games at 9, 10 and 11 p.m.
“I became a part of that because I moved in here and came to the rink,” he said. “I figured somebody had to play hockey.”
One of the parents O’Keefe had been chatting with, Lesley Davidson, is new to the world of hockey.
This is the first year her son Will has donned the skates.
“It’s sort of a fresh experience for me,” she said. “It’s the whole world of hockey, coming together with other families.”
She comments on the cases along the walls of the rink with trophies, some dating back to the ’50s.
“I like that sense of legacy, and obviously it’s a little worn around the edges and could use some tender-loving care but as far as a place for where people gather, I find it very friendly and accessible.”
She’s sure to laud the men, whose images adorn those same walls in painted form.
“We were just commenting on what a great legacy for these guys,” she said. “To think that young children can still come here today because somebody thought about building this arena, probably when there was nothing much around here.”
Hockey is as much a part of Canada’s history, and the parents continue the tradition watching their children go five-hole or stick side, or even be the ones flashing the glove to make a save.
“There’s a sense of excitement,” O’Keefe said. “We look forward to coming to the games.”
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