Hockey Rink
Hockey Rink

By Robb Murray

I’ve got one of the grooviest side gigs imaginable. Well, I should qualify that. It’s groovy if you love hockey, and love being a part of the biggest deal in the Mankato hockey scene.

If you’ve been to a Mavericks game in the past few seasons, you may have seen me on the big screen. I’m one of the guys who, when a player trips somebody or whacks him with his stick, politely opens the door to the penalty box to let him in. Invariably, the broadcast team shows footage of the wrongdoer, and you’ll see me in that footage seated next to him. Two minutes later, I let the wrongdoer out, a task that usually goes down without incident. (Former Mavericks player Nick Rivera may disagree, but that’s a story for another time.)

Last weekend the Mavericks played their final home game of the season at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center in Mankato. Call it the final home-game hurrah in a hockey season that did its best to bring Division I hockey back after unprecedented levels of abnormalcy. The pandemic has transformed every aspect of life, hockey included. While the building was devoid of fans save for a few hundred for the last few weekends, the action on the ice was still exhilarating.

I’d like to think we can be better. I’d like to think we’ve still got a chance to get things back to normal — not pre-pandemic normal, but pre-alternative facts normal.

I played hockey as a kid. Loved the sport. Still do. But as a kid, one of the memories that sticks out has nothing to do with scoring goals or winning championships. It was watching the Zamboni clean the ice. While my friends and teammates would wait excitedly for their chance to race onto the ice, I’d often stand mesmerized — my little-kid face barely high enough to see over the boards — as this magical machine in 10 minutes performed a miracle.

The Zamboni took a skate-gouged, puck-pummeled and stick slapped ice sheet and transformed it, through a circular pattern, into a smooth and glistening sheet of frozen perfection. I almost didn’t want to step onto the ice when it was ready, worried I’d ruin the Zamboni driver’s stellar work.

Seconds later, of course, we’d all tumble onto the ice, a bevy of awkward and giddy pee-wees who came to play the game we loved. As much as I loved the perfect, unspoiled ice sheet, I also loved those first few seconds on the ice when all we had to do was skate around. I’d stride quickly, build up a little speed and then dig my skate blades in for a hard turn, then glance back to see the crescent-shaped line and dusting of ice crystals all along the curve. Eventually a whistle would corral us into the boxes and a game would commence.

Watching the Zamboni the other night with the same child-like wonder of my pee-wee years, I couldn’t help but see the machine’s work as a metaphor for the vaccine.

Around the world medical professionals are busy administering the COVID-19 vaccine to millions of people. The United States is among the world’s leaders in vaccination rates. As I’m writing this, roughly 13% of Americans are fully vaccinated. That number will only grow. To some, myself included, the vaccine is the light at the end of a very, very dark tunnel.

Let’s be clear: This country sort of needs a reset, and not just because of the virus. Before the virus was something to fear, there was something else gumming up the works and getting in the way of us having a pleasant society: the vitriol that has become commonplace in our online interactions.

Is it possible that we can come out of this pandemic better than we were going in? Is it possible a catastrophic upheaval to our routines can result in a kinder populace?

I’d like to think we can be better. I’d like to think we’ve still got a chance to get things back to normal — not pre-pandemic normal, but pre-alternative facts normal.

The vaccine will help, but if we’re going to truly make any progress, everyone needs to be a part of the solution.

Actually, maybe the vaccine isn’t the Zamboni after all. Maybe we’re the Zamboni. Maybe we, the level-headed logical thinkers, are the heroes we’ve been waiting for. Maybe it’s always been up to us to fix this debacle/charade/clown show.

If so, we better get crackin’. This ice sheet ain’t gonna clean itself.