It has to have been at least 3 years now.
But Dan Aikens saved my life.
Or at least that's how I remember it.
I will never understand how memory works. How often it lies, how often it can become distorted, how often details change and disappear within the shoddy framework of the brain.
But as far as I remember the story it begins at one of my first ice hockey games. Probably after playing the legendary 'Ron Tracy' and the Lawnquenchers. Could have been the Raiders Alum team. Not too sure, definitely one of my first 3 ice hockey games ever as a member of Men's League C at UD on the team known around the Tri State area -- The Drunken Clams.
It's end of junior year of college, I can barely ice skate, I'm just out looking to be a team player and 'Clam' it up. One 'Clam's it up by scoring shorthanded, skating up from on defense, or by getting ridiculous unnecessary penalties. Because of my skill set, I chose the latter.
Men's League pushing and shoving after the whistles, Men's League trash talk at the faceoff circle, even Men's League hacking and slashing are all part of the game. It is Men's League. But in the offensive zone with the puck pinned agaisnt the boards with my skate I got whalloped in the back of the head. No whistle. Again to the back of the head. No whistle, again, with the stick this time, my helmet falls off. No whistle. I turn to see how far the referee must have stuck the whistle up his ass to not be blowing this play dead with my helmet on the ice. Again to the back of my bare head now. I go down hard. As I get back up in, actually, alot of pain and unbewildered reckless 'I'm-going-to-punch-someone-in-the-face' fury the whistle finally blows.
The dude behind me was huge. He had to be 6' 5. And thick. I didn't give a fuck at that point. I'm swingin at this dude's head and his teammates and my teammates are all converging and someone is between us and my arms are being held and I'm still boiling with rage.
"Fuck your mother!" I yell into his face. Probably not the best thing to scream at some guy I don't know. But then I up the ante'. I do the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life: I hock back in my throat and I start to spit right into his face.
I say start because I don't know if I actually fully spit. I think I sort of regained control and knew not to spit in some huge guy's face. I'm not an idiot, right? But then again, my arms were held and I just needed to do something to this guy to piss him off, something. But maybe I don't remember because he reacted before I could even spit--
To this day it's the quickest I've ever seen human hands move. They were in gloves right in front of my face about head-high. They were definitely in his gloves. But less than a fraction of a second they were at his sides and the gloves were gone. And less than a fraction of a second after that they were arcing around behind him and over his head. And then no time passed at all and his fists were extended right into my face and head. Over. And over. And over.
I count at least 4 punches before even 1 second has gone by. And this giant of a man, with a beard growing on his beard, who I've never seen before in my entire life, is swinging these solid meathooks into my face and teaching me that 20-year-old punks who spit at grown men will get what they deserve.
He was going to kill me, and there wasn't any pain, or remorse, or even any urge to fight back. It was some sort of judgement from God happening. All I could do was take it.
And I'm telling you-- I remember the rage in his eyes and the beard growing on this dude's beard. Then just the smooth circular flowing motion-- it was all one move-- like it was yesterday. The gloves came off, the arms pulled back, and the fists were in my face before anyone on that ice could blink. And I think I was too stunned to even feel any of it until afterward. I was ready for death.
But something saved me. Some-one.
As I was going down, my left winger took action. #23 was a blur of motion and I didn't see him come to my rescue but it was later described as:
"He just fuckin flew dude."
"All the sudden Dan was in the air and on that dude's back!"
"Fuckin' Aikens flying through the air"
"I don't even know, it all happened so fast, first it was him pummeling you, then it was him pummeling Dan. It was awesome!"
Apparently Dan Aikens is part shark. When he smells blood, when the scrums break out on the ice, he is driven into a 'Flying Frenzy'. He skated as fast as he could and leapt into the air onto this dude's back. What normally would have toppled an average man did no such thing. It didn't even faze this 'man among men'. He reached behind him, and again, without breaking motion, pulled Dan to the ice in front of him (now in front of me). And he began pummeling Dan like it was me. Like he never stopped swinging those rock hard meat tenderizers. It was kind of weird to see. I got up and some other guy grabbed me and we both just looked over at Dan on the ice taking those viscious hits.
They eventually broke it up. The referee wedging himself in there and the big gallute finally agreeing that 'enough was enough' and it's time to let off. Looking back, maybe he didn't even know it was 2 people he was pounding on. Maybe he was so angry, and so fast, and so unnerved by the Flying Aikens attack that he really thought he put about 20 solid punches right into one skinny 20 year-old kid's face.
I was introduced to a tough-guy badass from that team months later. Many months. They said Duhaddaway was the guy who laid into me and that he's one tough son o' a gun. And I'm not doubting Duhaddaway's toughness or his badass-ery but he's shorter than me. And has a pretty regular beard. And he doesn't recall the story too well / at all.
I distinctly remember looking up at this guy. And I distinctly remember that beard. The face?--not so much. I think I was too busy spitting in his or getting punched in mine to really get a good read. I don't know. All I know is that was one fucking lesson to learn. Don't fuck with a guy unless you're willing to get fucked back.
Maybe I would have died. Maybe he would have stopped. Maybe it was Dahaddaway. Maybe this is all crazy blown out of proportion. Maybe it took place in the defensive zone. Maybe I was on the bench and it never happened. I don't know.
Because memory is funny like that. Some of the biggest memories in our lives are of the smallest events and they maybe didn't even happen in the order or even the way we remember them. They just are.
And that's what this was. It just was. And I'll always remember that gloves-off to full-punching in under a second happening so fast. I've still never seen anything like it. And that beard he was growing on his beard. I never saw him again (to my knowledge) and I never need to again. The Bearded Windmill Mauler could have retired that very day.
That day I learned my fucking Men's League lesson and I gained one of my best buds. And we became BFF (if you catch my meaning) and partners in Clams Hockey crime. I was groomed into the Goon role I was born to (not) be. The brothers of bash and booze.
So whether it happened or not shouldn't really matter. What matters, is that I got fucking rocked.....and kept Men's League C-ing. All the way to the Championship.