Word on the street is that street hockey is making a comeback


Ah, the street game, still alive, if only by fading memory for those of us who shaped our plastic Mylec stick blades over heated kitchen stovetops and bolted out the door yelling, “Game on!”
Jim Montgomery recently peered out a window on the second floor of the Bruins’ practice facility, November’s muted sunshine dappled across the pavement, and wistfully proclaimed it a “beautiful day for street hockey.”
Once was the time here in the Hub of Hockey when streets and parking lots and tennis courts, in both the city and ‘burbs, were jammed day and night with kids and sticks, tennis balls and makeshift nets.
Street hockey was big … bigger than the infinite pickleball universe big.
During the late 1960s and into the ‘70s, Bruins such as Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Gerry Cheevers were our idols of both ice and asphalt. We zigged and zagged up and down the street, avoiding cars, stickhandling around potholes, yelling out loud the names of the legends-in-the-making — ”No. 4, Bobby Orr!”
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“It was a huge deal,” said Montgomery, recalling his street hockey days as a kid in Montreal. “One of my teachers, she used to drive by my street after school, and I’d already be home playing street hockey. I used to put the orange ball right [under] her car, every time, and she didn’t understand, she’d be, ‘You’re going to hit! … ’ and I’d be, ‘I’ll never hit your tire!’ Never did, either.”
Ex-Bruin Andrew Ference, who worked the backline here for the Bruins in their Stanley Cup championship run in 2011, nowadays is the NHL’s point man for making street hockey big again in the US and Canada.
Ference, 44, is the kingpin of the recently founded NHL STREET program, though his official league title is director of its office of social impact, growth and legislative affairs. In short, Andrew Ference, street hockey guy, Stanley Cup ring and all.
NHL STREET, Ference explained recently by telephone from his home on Vancouver Island, aims to get kids, ages 6-16, picking up hockey sticks, chasing balls, and having fun. We live in complex times. So that business model may sound far too simple, but simple is precisely the point.
NHL STREET is low cost, intended to be angst-free for kids and parents, and not really aimed at morphing kids into ice hockey players. If that happens, great, but it’s not the mantra. It’s a sneaker-and-stick version of the highly popular NFL FLAG football model, which, noted Ference, now has some 700,000 participants in the US.
Former Bruin Andrew Ference is now a champion of street hockey through NHL STREET. Gene J. Puskar
The International Olympic Committee, by the way, recently made flag football part of its menu for the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. There’s no telling how these simple things can gain traction. Per Ference, some 1,200 kids played in NHL STREET leagues in 2023. The aim for ‘24 is upward of 10,000.
Ultimately, Ference said, he’d like to see a 1:1 ratio in the US and Canada between kids who play ice hockey and those who play street hockey. Given the cost and time demands of playing and training for the frozen version, 1:1 looks as easy as melting snow over a July 4 BBQ in Death Valley.
“We are betting big on the fact that we think there are a lot of kids and a lot of families … ,” mused Ference, “ … that quite frankly don’t want the super-intense competitiveness of youth sports right now, or the hijacking of your entire family calendar.”
To that point, said Ference, NHL STREET leagues, which typically run 6-10 weeks, schedule but one game a week. Total onsite time commitment, including warm-up and basic instruction (two hands on the stick … go!), is roughly 60 minutes. Games are played in two 15-minute halves.
Total cost per kid usually ranges $100-$200 per season, and every kid receives a cool NHL jersey to wear and keep at season’s end. Ideally, said Ference, they all leave having learned the sport and having made friends. Mission accomplished. All the better, of course, if they become NHL fans.
“We recommend that people do this once a week,” said Ference, framing how NHL STREET is intended to be a seamless fit for families. “Let those families also do piano lessons and gymnastics, do the other sports. Let this be part of their week, but not take over their lives, right? I think there’s a lot of families out there that want their kids doing sports, involved in stuff, making friends, having fun, but not feeling the pressure of it.”
Among the very few guidelines NHL STREET sets forth for league organizers: Make certain there’s a barrier behind each net.
“It’s just more fun,” noted Ference, “when you’re not chasing after the ball all the time, right?”
Music, loud music, is another essential NHL STREET element. Kids like the vibe, noted Ference, as much as they like wearing their colorful NHL jersey.
“Turn up the music,” said Ference, “and then grab a stick and put the puck in the net by any means possible. That’s pretty much it.”
Montgomery, 54, played with some Montreal street hockey pals on a team that won a Quebec indoor ball hockey championship when he was 18. A couple of years later, he began his freshman year at the University of Maine.
He and his buds arrived at each ball hockey game with music blasting.
“That was my pal,” said Montgomery, recalling how a teammate was charged with lugging the tunes. “We were the Devils, and he played ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’ on his boombox.”
The times change, the team names change, and lyrics change, but the street game lives on.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com.


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