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YOU DON'T have to be a hockey player to enjoy ice skating. And there's nothing like an hour at the neighborhood rink to stretch the mind as well as the body.

Like the other night when, as I glided atop a pair of ancient CCM blades at Lafayette Park, the following thoughts poke-checked their way into my brain.

Is there anything finer than a clean sheet of just-Zambonied ice? Especially when you're the first one on it?

Why do some guys look so cool when they skate with their hands behind their back and others look like they're about to fall on their nose?

Does anyone skate on frozen ponds anymore?

If water froze from the bottom up, would skating have been invented?

The age of the male skater is directly proportional to the amount of leather and steel in his skates.

Are there any rinks where they make the public skaters take turns to the right instead of the left? My best move is a cross-over to the left that's been perfected through years of counter-clockwise public skating. But I've never had any practice going right.

Boys of a certain age like nothing better than to skate fast and then stop quickly to see how much "snow" they can raise.

George Plimpton, writing about "the peculiar pleasure" of hockey in his book "Open Net," might well have been describing ice skating in general when he said: "One moves across a completely different medium -- ice -- that allows great speeds, quick stops in a spray of shavings, the ability to move backward as fast as forward, the maneuverability of a dragonfly."

Are the Los Angeles Raiders the second-most popular football team in Buffalo, or is fashion the reason so many teen-agers wear those black jackets?

What's the best way for a kid to learn to skate? Push a pylon around the rink or stagger around the boards until you stop falling down?

If you put two 12-year-old boys on a rink, how long until one grabs the other's hat?

If the term "rink rat" didn't exist, how long would it take to invent it?

You look younger with your hat on if you can remember when the major indoor ice rink around here was the old Fort Erie Arena.

Other places I have skated where you can't go anymore: Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue in New York City. Buffalo Curling Club on Sheridan. Great Arrow Rink on Great Arrow Avenue. Delaware Park Lake.

Why don't hockey players ever fall down when they jump over the boards onto the ice?

Do goalies really have to be good skaters? Or is that a myth perpetuated by the Goalie's Guild?

Why is skating backward so scary -- even when the rink isn't crowded?

Employers should give preference to ice skaters. They have shown the perseverance needed to master a difficult task that seemed impossible when they started.

What does CCM stand for?

Whatever happened to the Dick Fischer and Al Dekdebrun sporting goods stores?

Other good places I have skated: New York City's Central Park. The plaza in front of the Niagara Falls Convention Center. Front Park. Dann Memorial Rink at Nichols School. Basketball court behind School 66 after an ice storm. Peirick's Pond in Bennington Center.

Even in this age of liberation, you still don't see many girls on hockey skates or boys on figure skates.

I'm a coffee drinker. But at a rink I always choose hot chocolate. With marshmallows, if available.

Best places I have never skated, but will someday: Rockefeller Center under the big Christmas tree. Toronto City Hall. Lake Placid. West Allis, Wisc. Rideau Canal in Ottawa. A canal in Holland.

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