It is rare to see a 68-year-old man sprint the length of the gym with a whiffle ball seemingly tethered to his hockey stick, whirl and fire a backhand that would impress Gordie Howe into the top corner of the net. But then again, Trail native John D’Arcangelo is a rare individual who has been organizing a game of shinny for more than 50 years.
Known more affectionately among ball-hockey friends as ‘Deke’ D’Arcangelo, the shinny aficionado has been playing since he was seven years old on the streets, alleys, parking lots, and gymnasiums of Greater Trail.
“I always loved shinny,” said D’Arcangelo. “It’s always been a passion, and just kept doing it, never quit, we just kept going.”
D’Arcangelo, his brother Paul, and Richard Harrison all returned to the unnamed alley between Columbia and Second Avenues over the holidays to reminisce about the narrow roadway where the trio and many East Trail boys played their first game of shinny.
“I couldn’t believe going back to the alley after 60 years, because we moved from Second Avenue to Fifth Avenue, and I don’t think I ever played there again, so literally it was the first time back there in 60 years with a hockey stick in my hand,” said John. “I can’t believe how fast the time has gone.”
Back then, the young players found creative ways to reduce the cost and effort in chasing balls down the streets. They built their own hockey nets out of two-by-fours and chicken wire, fashioned goalie sticks out of plywood, and used shaved tennis balls with small holes poked in them to reduce the bounce and roll. They cleared snow from the streets and when they moved their game to the Safeway parking lot in 1959, they fought to keep their turf and settled the occasional shinny challenge from kids from far away West Trail or the Gulch.
“Looking back on it, it’s quite amazing that we were tolerated on the streets,” said Harrison. “Of course traffic was a lot less back then but boy, did we have fun.”
Over the years, as players came and went, D’Arcangelo remained the one constant. He organized a game every week in the winter months, graduating from the parking lot to the Cominco Gym, the MacLean School in Rossland, Central School, the Armouries, Field House, and eventually Trail Middle School gym, now the Kootenay-Columbia Learning Centre, where the ‘Sultan of Shinny’ continues to manufacture a weekly match.
“When they gave us that gym, that is like the Forum, the grand daddy of them all . . . I use to remember playing with kids and I was twice their age, then it went to three-times and now Denis Bedin’s son and Gerry Bertolucci’s son they are 14, I’m almost five times their age.”
Although, the floor-hockey game has changed less than ice hockey over the years, it has evolved. The straight-blade hockey stick hasn’t seen ice since Stan Makita introduced the curve back in the ‘60s. Yet, D’Arcangelo refuses to relinquish the relic making special orders to Sherwood to replenish his supply, and ensure his secret weapon, the backhand, remains in perfect working order.
“The obvious difference today is the lack of a backhand. The backhand shot has become pretty ineffective because of the curved sticks . . . My best move was a spinarama back hand. At one time it was so good, (Ken) Dryden couldn’t have stopped it,” he laughed.
Despite the countless number of players over the years, a core group remains tight, bound by the experience and the love of the game. John and his brothers Paul and Don were passionate road-hockey players, and other local enthusiasts like Dennis Gerace, Harry Stanton, Robert Fox, Terry Mailey, Ron Rebelato, Gordon Swedburg, Bill Penner, and Richard Salsiccioli even came together for a Shinny Reunion in 1997 to share memories and pay homage to the game and their friendship with a match in the Safeway lot.
“One of the guys use to say to me, ‘I love shinny, it’s one way I can get back to my youth’ – and I guess it is,” says D’Arcangelo.
Because of his enduring passion for the game, ‘Deke’ was honoured with the 2013 B.C. Sports Hero Award for floor-hockey.
The venerable talent continues to stay young and keep the love of the game alive in Trail by including others in the uniquely Canadian pastime.
“I hope to keep going as long as I can. One of my goals was to play shinny and collect my pension, and I’ve done that, now I’m pushing until at least 70 and we’ll go as long as we can. I still love it to this day.”