Howard Detsky was just 16 when he began one of the longest relationships of his life — an ongoing love affair that includes a standing date at the Forest Hill Arena on Thursday nights.
A love affair with the game of hockey.
It all started in 1966 on a day when he was playing shinny in that very same arena near Eglinton Avenue West and Bathurst Street. Anxious for more ice time, he asked a group of adults, who he says had been playing at the arena since 1961, if he could join their game.
Now, at 67, he's still at it.
"From what I understand in speaking with the city of Toronto permit person ... this may be the longest-running adult game in the city of Toronto," he said.
The former accountant remembers when booking the ice time cost $2.50 per player each week. Now it's around $15, or "about the cost of a movie ticket" per game, he said. The players meet every Thursday for 32 weeks a year.
Detsky kept a log and estimates 500 players have participated over the years. Many of them are family, including his sons Jay and Stuart.
"It doesn't matter what's going on in your life," said Stuart Detsky, describing a love of hockey and the weekly connection with his family as the reason he and his brother have taken part for about 20 years.
Detsky said there are a lot of retired professional athletes who have also played, former Olympic silver medalist Bob McKnight and most recently, former Montreal Canadiens defenceman Mike Weaver, 38.
"I'm introducing things in my life that I loved again. Getting back to the spirit of the game," Weaver said.
The one-time Hab, who was born in Bramalea and retired from the NHL in 2015, said players in a lot of amateur leagues "just want bragging rights at the bar," if they can hit, high-stick or deke an ex-pro.
'Exactly what I need right now'
But this game of shinny is different, Weaver explained.
He says it's "exactly what I need right now," getting back to the simple love of Canada's national sport.
Steve Sharf recruited Weaver and has played nearly as long as Howard Detsky on the opposing team. In spite of long-standing ribbing, Sharf — who also plays with his sons — refuses to let them play "on the dark team."
Even still, he admits, all the players are "like brothers" sharing major life milestones every week.
David Strashin said the Thursday-night tradition is competitive, yet it's "a gentlemen's game," a constant in a constantly changing world.
Out with a minor injury, Strashin is determined to get back to the ice and play alongside his son, CBC reporter Jamie Strashin, and hopes to suit up long enough to play with his grandson.
"It was always something to look forward to," he said.