While I never played organized hockey, many of my earliest and best memories of growing up revolve around the sport. Berlin, New Hampshire is just a Sunday drive south of the Canadian border and has historically been a paper mill town with a predominantly French-Canadian population. Hockey is a foundational part of the place. For many years, the south end of Main Street was spanned with a sign made up of two huge hockey sticks and an equally large hockey puck replica with white letters that said "Berlin, NH Hockeytown USA". Friday nights was always ice skating at the Notre Dame Arena. Pick up street hockey at St. Joseph's School and ice hockey at the outdoor rink behind the police station was a daily ritual. Usually a freezing cold daily ritual. Frozen tennis balls hurt like hell when you take a slap shot in the thigh.
This is a picture of the Berlin High School Hockey team from around 1950. My dad, Richard Viger, is the handsome guy with the sporty hair second from the right in the first row. Everybody called him Deeko... a take off on Dick (back when this was still an acceptable nickname). Folklore says that Deeko was a pretty exceptional hockey player with full ride scholarship letters. It's probably true. I've had people I didn't know recognize my unique last name and ask if he was my Dad, following on with a comment about how they loved to watch him play in high school.
Deeko ended up signing a different type of acceptance form and the Navy got to enjoy his athletic skills instead. Despite his time on an aircraft carrier, my dad retained his love of hockey through out his life. Memories of my Dad are memories of hockey and vice versa. He was always a fan and would take me to high school games for as long as I could remember. The Berlin Maroons were a semi-pro team in my home town and we'd take in their games as well.
My Uncle Romeo and ma Tante Grace ran a small gas station/convenience store on the West bank of the Androscoggin River where the James Cleaveland Bridge now stands. Dad and I would often visit to sit in their little office and watch the Canadiens on a 13 inch black and white television that was up on top of a tall file cabinet. Romeo was a Canadiens fan and would only watch hockey on the French-speaking channels we could get from Montreal. The patter of the announcers in a language I didn't understand, the pale blue light from that TV, Guy Lafleur's smooth command of the rink and sitting at my Dad's side with a thick, curved 10 ounce glass bottle of Coke in my hand are still vivid memories to me. I don't know how old I was... maybe five.
While Uncle Romeo liked the Canadiens, at our house, it was the Bruins. Located just about midway between Montreal and Boston, the whole town had a similar split allegiance. People were passionate about it... the kind of stuff that bar room fights are made of. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1972 when I was six. This was the era of Phil Esposito, Gerry Cheevers, Terry O'Reilly, Derek Sanderson, Ken Hodge and other iconic Bruins players. And of course, Bobby Orr. A Bobby Orr biography was one of the first books I remember checking out of the library as a kid. The Sher-wood hockey stick I bought at the arena, my Bobby Orr waste paper basket and an autographed Johnny Bucyk postcard were prized possessions at the time.
My Dad and I made an unbelievable trip to the Montreal Forum for a Stanley Cup game with the Bruins... it must have been during the 1978 finals. We were only a few rows off the ice and it was amazing. That trip gave me quite a story to tell my friends when we stopped at Gagne's store on the way to 7:00 pm Catholic Mass... also in French. No wonder we spent the 50 cents our Mothers had given us for the church's donation basket on hockey cards. Despite the strong French Canadian Catholic influence in the community, hockey was religion and Catholic charitable salvation seemed insignificant compared to the chance of getting a Rick Middleton or Jean Ratelle.
By the time I hit junior high, my interests were elsewhere. Maybe it was part of teenage rebellion for something that such a big part of my Dad. As an adult, I can I say enjoy hockey, but I don't follow it all that closely. In fact, I'm betting I could name more players of that early 70's line-up than of the current Bruins roster. Last winter I took my young sons to their first high school game and it felt like closing a circle. Our garage was renamed "the Garden" because of our evening hockey games and soon they were wearing Bruins winter hats. I had a great time watching the Bruins win the Cup last season. It seemed the way hockey should be played.
A few weeks ago I was sitting with a new friend and was invited to take pictures at a Stanley Cup event. At first, it didn't sink sink in. But driving home I was taken off guard by how excited I was. When I thought about it, I knew why. The Stanley Cup is the ultimate hockey icon and, for me, hockey will always represent home and my Dad. Spending the night with the Stanley Cup three feet from me was like re-visiting my childhood... it was like having my dad by my side. I haven't heard his voice in a long time now, but when I reviewed the almost 1,000 photographs I took that night, His slow, second generation Franco-American twang would sometimes pop into my head saying "Hey Joey... you got to touch the same Stanley Cup as Bobby Orr." Awesome!
On with the photography...
Joe Ricchio from Food Coma TV
The fantastic crew at Krista's. I was in their way all night long and they were so nice to act like it was their fault, usually offering to get me something to eat or drink in the process.
If you are ever in Cornish, Maine, make sure you visit Krista's Restaurant. And even if you aren't in Cornish, make a special trip. It's a really wonderful place with exceptional food and people. Special thanks to Krista Lair for asking me to make these photos of a special night for her and the town of Cornish. Also, thanks to Jim Bednarek for his generosity in bringing the most amazing sporting tradition to small town New England hockey fans!
|Krista Lair and Jim Benarek|