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Horatio, Saku and George Le Puck:
Street Hockey, Montréal Can-Can Style

by Grant Boyd, Jr.

We were wandering around Vieux-Montreal in the sun last Friday afternoon and I notice a silver-haired fellow with a hockey stick, shooting a puck at the wrought iron fence around the base of the Horatio Nelson monument at one end of Place Jacques-Cartier. Oldest monument in Montreal. Stands about 50 feet high and has Nelson facing away from the St. Lawrence River, looking toward the mountain. Odd orientation for a marine hero. Although, he apparently suffered terribly from seasickness throughout his life. Maybe it was to spare him from having to gaze out over the source of his queasiness, for all time.

Horatio has the sun at his back this lovely afternoon and as the cardboard sign on the fence informs me – "G.R. Roberge" at his feet, working on his wrist shot. The sign boasts that G.R., at the age of sixty-four, broke not one, but two pucks in half with his shot. And that he’s challenged Saku Koivu, the Canadiens’ captain to a shoot-out. George (Robert), as I come to learn – has a medium-sized tin can dangling from a black bungee cord, hooked to the fence. The can would be about three feet off the ground – or about forty-seven feet below Nelson’s gaze.

The deal is, as the cardboard sign explains in both French and English – "If I am able to hit the can, maybe you could put whatever you can – in the can."

I’ve seen a lot of street hustles, but this endeavour is something else. Combining as it does our unofficial national religion – hockey, with an historical setting and elements of skill, chance, charity and the satisfying sound of rubber ricocheting off of tin. This is inspired, true blue north street theatre.

I ask George what he likes in his coffee. "Black? Double-double?"

George: "Deux et trois… two cream, three sugars."

At the Tim’s, I wonder aloud what George might like food-wise. The server isn’t familiar with his preferences. "Really? He works just down the street from you." I settle on the chocolate-glazed Boston Cream doughnut, simply because it looks like a puck.

I hand him his coffee and Boston Cream and put my coffee and doughnut in the basket on his well-traveled bike. "Take your stick for ya’?"

Me: "Mind if I take a couple of shots?"

George gives up the stick – reluctantly. This is the tool of his trade, no less than a painter’s brush – a sculptor’s chisel. I can appreciate his apprehension. I stick handle the puck back and forth – it seems to provide him some ease. He tucks into his Boston cream.

George: "You’ve played hockey."

Me: "Oh yeah."

George: "No slap shots."

Me: "No percentage George. Inaccurate."

The puck’s edges are worn down to a bevelled smoothness, from hitting the cement base of the monument. I take a closer look at the stick. A Titan, with a half dozen holes of varying sizes drilled through the blade. And on the bottom of the blade are the burnished heads of finishing nails in the fibreglass.

Me: "What’s with the holes George – better aerodynamics?"

George: "Oui – some days the wind off the river is so strong, it catches the blade and spoils my shot."

Me: "And the finishing nails on the bottom ?"

George: "Without them, I would wear a stick out in a week."

Me: "How many sticks do you go through in a year?"

George: "Cinq."

Me: "And pucks?"

George: "Four or five."

Me: "What’s your best run George?"

George: "Ten in a row. Non – nine and a half. One was a ricochet."

Me: "Ten? No wonder Koivu hasn’t taken you up on your challenge. Ever put a puck in the can?"

George: "Oui, when the puck deflected up, it dropped back down into the can."

Me: "Like a hole in one, huh?"

George: "Two times."

I’ve been stick handling in and around tourists shooting the puck – high, wide, low and one off the fence that creases the can. "That count as half a hit, George?"

Me: "George, is that a Habitant soup can? I really like Habitant Chicken Noodle soup. I don’t think I can bring myself to deface one of their cans."

George laughs.

A puck ricochets straight up off a fence rail – high up toward the stone alligator, with its mouth open, part way up the column.

Me: "How many of your pucks has that alligator eaten George?"

The next shot rings satisfyingly off the can. "Yayy!!" I raise my arms in the air in celebration and do a running leapfrog jump over a baluster in front of the monument.

Me: "George, what if you put some marbles, or washers in the can, so that a hit would make the can really ring out?"

George: "But the things would fall out when the can flipped over."

Me: "You could fix a fine mesh screen to the top and put a slit in it, for

George: "Hey, this is my show. You want to do that – get your own show."

My turn to laugh. "Fair enough."

Me: "How often are you here George?"

George: "Almost every day."

He looks it – his face is tanned as you’re apt to see on anyone at this time of year, who hasn’t traveled south, or to a tanning salon. George checks his watch, almost 3:00 PM – quittin’ time. He has a pretty good pedal home to Rosemont, ahead of him. He drains his coffee – I try his trick of scooping the puck onto the blade of the stick, to flip him his puck. No luck. He shows me the point on the tip of the blade that he’s sanded down and which allows him to get under the puck. I try again. Got it. I flip the puck high into the air and catch it.

"Hey George, if you win the truck when you roll up your rim, you gotta’ promise to chauffeur me and my partner-in-crime around Montreal, whenever we’re visiting."

George: "Me, I don’t need a truck. I drive my bicycle for 10 years. It’s good exercise and keeps me healthy."

Certainly the case, by the looks of him.

Me: "Yeah, a vehicle is almost as expensive as being married," I joke. (I’ve introduced George to la co-presidente, Sheena, who’s joined us. And told him that we’re visiting Montreal to celebrate our wedding anniversary – "trente et un ans." He shakes our hands and congratulates us.)

George’s coffee cup rim is the story of his honourable calling, shooting the puck – "Please try again."

I’m a bit luckier. "George, I’ve got a winner. A biscuit – with your name on it."

I show him the anomaly about the kids in the pond hockey scene on our $5 bill. I give him the five. "It’s a sure bet, you’ll never have to buy
another beer at the tavern."

George: "You know the best thing about doing this? It’s not just the

Me: "The kids?"

George: "Oui – when they watch and I hit the can with a well-aimed shot, their eyes light up."

Me: "George, have you ever considered taking on an apprentice?"

By: Grant Boyd, Jr. Assist, #9 — George ROBERGE!!
Shoots: Left (Not nearly as accurately as George)
Lives: In Val-Des-Monts, Québec and works on his wrist shot in Montréal, whenever he gets a chance

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