Travel hockey involves just that. A lot of travel. This means hours and hours in the car to large and small Connecticut towns that have some predictable, American eateries. Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Subway, and the list goes on. However, what is most appealing to hockey players upon arriving to the opposing team’s rink, is not the traditional fast food choices, but instead it’s the snack bar at the rink. Hockey rink snack bars offer a variety of foods with a wide range of quality. With all the traveling, everyone gets hungry for more than just the snacks prepared and brought in the car. Home snacks either get eaten right away or rejected because they are too “boring”. There is the recurrent question, “What else is there, mom?” And, there is always much discussion about the potential for getting “fun” food at the rink’s food stand.
Our home rink has surprisingly excellent food. There is a variety of candy, pretzels, fries, soda, coffee, GOOD hot chocolate, and waffles made to order that take 8 minutes exactly to cook. The waffles are warm, thick, perfectly cooked, filling the lobby with a fantastic, sweet aroma of sugary , doughy heaven. No calorie is spared in their preparation. The line is always long, and the food is worth the wait.
When we travel, other rinks often do not offer a selection that is as pleasing. As parents, we always scope it out…and ask each other, “Did you check out the snack bar? Is it any good?” We KNOW they will want something. It is an accepted part of the hockey budget, a line item, “snack bar food”. Some places only offer candy and drinks. Those are always a bummer, or the rinks that just have a candy vending machine are especially disappointing. Not that the kids don’t want candy, but after playing a full game, they are looking for something more intriguing than starbursts. Something warm like nachos with melted, bright orange cheese that has those little bits of jalapeno. It sticks to their fingers and they lick off the rest, one finger at a time, grinning with satisfaction. If there are no nachos, then perhaps freshly prepared fries, leaving the boiling grease right before being plated will do the trick. Lots of salt and slathered with ketchup. Delicious! Re-fueling in style after expending all that energy during the game. A satisfying reward before getting back in the car. Happy kid=happy car ride home.
The goalie on Brett’s team last season, Maks, was known for seeking out and knowing the in’s and out’s of every snack bar. He would arrive early and scope out every fine, hole in the wall eatery all over the state. He would order a deluxe platter of fast foods, making everyone around him jealous. If there was pizza, he would get pizza, the oil dripping off his chin while he ate. He would have the pizza on top of fries with a side of nachos. This snacking would happen while he moved in and out of the locker room, crunching, munching, savoring every bite. Everyone looked on with envy and a little anxiety because it was so close to game time. Their turn for treats would come later, AFTER the game. Maks would literally eat up until the last minute, and would not tolerate being rushed through his enjoyment with these delicacies. Everyone would watch, sometimes shaking their heads and smiling, as he enjoyed every last bite. They just knew he had to finish, so they had to wait it out. You can’t play without the goalie. When the food was sub-par, Maks would offer immediate feedback and throw some of rejected food into the giant locker room garbage can. “That pretzel was old and gross. Bye, bye, pretzel.” His previewing allowed us to make better choices and spend our money wisely, and for that I was grateful. “Don’t get the fries here. They are dried out and nasty” or “The nachos are SO good. You should get some.” Watching him devour the food with a smile on his face definitely made you want some.
The only place I drink hot chocolate is at ice rinks watching hockey games. I don’t try getting coffee. I’m too picky, and the coffee looks like it’s lukewarm and watery, like my grandparents used to make in their old fashioned percolator. I used to drink it to be polite, thinking, maybe add a half dozen extra scoops of ground coffee? to make it taste like actual coffee? Even getting hot chocolate was risky. You could stand in line for 20 minutes and get warm, brown water for $5. OR sometimes, a snack bar could surprise you, and the cocoa tasted like it was brewed using imported Belgian chocolate with a perfect dollup of whipped cream on the top. When a snack bar had the good stuff, it was like winning a prize. Either way, the cocoa served an important secondary purpose as a hand warmer, so the money wasn’t entirely wasted.
In Northford, the rink had a carnival quality, huge snack bar. You could get all the best junk food in the state. The lines were 20 people deep ordering bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches on hard rolls, cooked fresh on the grill, pretzels, hot dogs, hamburgers on white bread rolls with american cheese stuck to the bun, crispy, curly fries, grilled cheese, a wide selection of cookies, brownies, and ice creams. It was the snack bar hall of fame, and the kids went bananas every time. The fries had the perfect cripsy texture, the pretzels were soft and new, and the grilled food was made to order. It was a dream come true, consoling the losing team and rewarding the winners.
In these strange times, where we cannot be near others, I miss things like the simplicity of standing in line at the snack bar. I miss seeing the team parents, talking about the game, or the ride to the rink. We chat about our families, our parents, the news, hockey, whatever! This social act brings us together, providing that bond that we all so desperately need. Social connection feeds our emotions and is the part that makes us most human. It isn’t the food. It’s the socializing, the love of being part of a group. I didn’t know that the snack bar would become so special. I can’t wait to get back in that line once this fog has lifted.