A winter classic for Mennonite hockey

A horse drawn farm wagon passes a group of Mennonite boys, aged 15-18, playing a game of shinny hockey on a homemade rink on the farm owned by Noah Martin in Wallenstein, Ontario on Jan 8, 2011. (Photo by Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

This is hockey in its truly classic form, played in the spirit of friendly competition, where goals are never counted.

By PETER POWER

SKATE BLADES cutting through ice and wooden sticks on a hard rubber puck are the only sounds to break the frigid silence on a January afternoon in Wallenstein, Ontario.

Barely a word is spoken among players sharing the 60-by-160-foot frozen sheet, but when conversation comes, a distinctly German dialect floats across the fields.

This is hockey in its truly classic form, played in the spirit of friendly competition, where goals are never counted.

These are the young men of the David Martin Mennonites, one of the Old Order groups that call rural Waterloo Region home. Of the roughly 20,000 Mennonites in this part of southwestern Ontario, 3,500 are of the ultra-traditional David Martin Mennonites group.

On Saturday afternoons during most of the year, Mennonite boys and men would be hard at work at family farms or businesses, but winter affords an opportunity to relax in classic Canadian fashion — on an outdoor rink.

Players wear no special equipment beyond fleece mittens or leather work gloves. The boys dress modestly in black, except for white shirts, which are seen when they shed their overcoats and vests as the action heats up.

As one of the more conservative off-shoots of the Pennsylvania Mennonites who settled the area in the early 1800s, the David Martin group has deliberately chosen an older way of life. They do not use electricity at home, relying instead on gas and kerosene lamps. However, electricity produced by gasoline generators is permitted for farming and other business.

Cell phones are a notable exception and one vibrates in a young man’s pocket at regular intervals when it’s time to rotate players into the action.

In the barn nearby, the distinctive laughter of young girls drifts over from a small window. Girls do not play hockey, but when the boys are asked if they would welcome girls into the game, they laugh and reply with a resounding “yes!”

Above the rink, two strands of wire hold a string of light bulbs for after-dark play. The boys often gather during the weeknights to play, not for trophies, or titles, but for simple enjoyment.

By suppertime on this Saturday, they have had enough, and without anyone declaring an end to the game, they gather their belongings, slide their skates onto their sticks and head home.

From Globe and Mail, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 11:28PM EST

See Peter Power’s photo essay at

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/multimedia/camera-club/a-winter-classic-for-mennonite-hockey/article1870504/

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