‘Shinny’ is a word that Canadians grow up using from a very young age. It’s something that’s part of the sporting landscape in every community.
Its definition is a pick-up game of ice hockey – a contest on the slippery stuff that anybody can turn up for and be a part of.
In the UK, its equivalent is going down to your local park and joining in a game of football – and being welcomed by the people already playing.
“We arrived by car at the local outdoor rink, and the boot was opened to reveal a collection of ice hockey equipment”
Although it’s ice hockey, Shinny participants wear little protective clothing and play without a goalie. The puck is not allowed to rise off the ice for safety reasons. It’s a game which is the epitome of the Canadian childhood in sport.
Shinny, or pond hockey, was originally played on frozen lakes with branches used as sticks and a lump of frozen animal manure for a puck.
Although real hockey sticks and pucks are used these days, it remains a free-for-all with no formal positions or rules.
Born into hockey
I was lucky enough to have a go at playing Shinny on a bitterly cold night in the city of Markham, which borders Toronto on Canada’s east coast.
After we arrived by car at the local outdoor rink, the boot was opened to reveal a collection of ice hockey equipment.
“As we got nearer, I was tantalised by the lights reflecting off the ice”
Kids in Canada are born into this sport. They learn to skate almost as soon as they can walk, and having a boot-full of hockey gear is the norm for most Canadian families.
This is where the analogy with a kickabout in the park breaks down – all you need for that is a ball. The equipment we’d brought with us to Shinny must have cost a fortune.
As we walked down to the public rink with bags of skates, helmets, sticks and pucks, I could hear music belting out from speakers surrounding the ice.
Although it was already 9.30pm on a Tuesday night and the rink officially closed at 10pm, it was still packed with skaters.
As we got nearer, I was tantalised by the lights reflecting off the ice. Floodlights were positioned all around the rink and impressively lit the whole area. I was taken aback that this was all free.
“Darkness fell, and the magic I had been waiting for was coming to life”
On one side of the rink there was a heated changing room for getting into your skates. On the other was a portakabin, which rented skates and had a security guard who laid down the law to those with sticks and pucks to respect other skaters.
I skated for around half an hour to find my feet and while I’m the first to admit I’m no Wayne Gretzky, the ice was teeming with people who made skating brilliantly look as simple as walking.
Different groups of locals starting to walk down from the car park with their bags hockey gear. The rink was closing, and the security guard made it very apparent that he did not care what everyone did on the ice when he turned off the lights and went home.
Darkness fell, and the magic I had been waiting for was coming to life. With the floodlights off and the music stopped, all you could hear was the slap of sticks hitting pucks on the ice.
Shinny had begun without even picking teams. It was a free for all, with the goals made up of either hockey gloves on either side or two boots.
I slapped the puck maybe twice. Everybody else on the ice was far too good for me to keep up. Night vision must be hereditary for Canadians, because even with a dark rink they all could clearly see the black puck.
It felt like a great privilege to take part in Shinny. This sporting tradition is a sacred one to the people of Canada, and is still being upheld by generation after generation.
For as long as there is ice and snow in Canada, there will always be Shinny.
Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons