What is it that makes hockey so profoundly Canadian? As writer and hockey fan Roy MacGregor explores in an article for Canadian Living, the values respected in hockey -- teamwork, resourcefulness, tenacity, humility and triumph -- are the principles Canadians try to uphold on the world stage, and as individuals.
Canada's national sport
All across the country, on frozen backyard ponds, community rinks and in state-of-the-art arenas, Canadians are playing our national sport: hockey. The game is invariably tied to our collective sense of what it means to be Canadian and is perhaps our most identifiable icon.
After all, the maple leaf, a familiar Canadian emblem, adorns some hockey jerseys, and two major chains selling our favourite food, donuts, were started by hockey greats Tim Horton and Eddie Shack.
Education embraces hockey
Hockey has even become a recurring subject in our literature. The theme is so significant that Michael P.J. Kennedy, instructor at the University of Saskatchewan, has created a course entitled “Reading Culture: Hockey in Canadian Literature.” Kennedy has also published Words on Ice: A Collection of Hockey Prose (Key Porter Books, 2003), an anthology of stories that capture many different perspectives on the game.
Read on for excerpts from some of those stories, and significant pieces of hockey history.
“I would sometimes imagine one great outdoor hockey game, stretching from just inside the Rockies to the shores of the Atlantic, detouring only around the too temperate climate of a few of the bigger cities. Or, perhaps, a hundred thousand simultaneous games, all overlapping as our own used to overlap at Dickson Park, kept separate only by the carved initials, inlaid in snow, on our pucks.”
- Peter Gzowski, The Game of Our Lives
“Hockey is our winter ballet and in many ways our only national drama.”
- Morley Callaghan, The Game That Makes a Nation
The national drama unfolds
All hockey season long, fans gather around televisions at home or in pubs to watch "the national drama" unfold. And it only intensifies when the playoffs begin.
Special games, such as the Winter Olympics or the 1972 Summit Series, are even more cause for excitement. In 2002, more than 6 million Canadians tuned in to see the women's hockey team win the gold medal at the Winter Olympics; 10 million tuned in to see the men's team do the same three days later.
The eight grueling games of the 1972 series against the Soviet Union were tantamount to a national identity crisis. No one expected the quick, hard-playing Soviet team to match the skill of Team Canada's NHL professionals.
Many Canadians took the day off work on Sept. 28, 1972 to watch the final game broadcast from Moscow. With mere seconds remaining, Paul Henderson scored the series-winning goal to win the game, 6-5, and all of Canada rejoiced. Describing the game play of Team Canada, Soviet coach Anatoli Tarasov said they “battled with the ferocity and intensity of a cornered animal."
Page 1 of 3: More facts about Canadain hockey culture on Page 2.
“The first thing that impressed him was the colour of the seats. When he'd watched games on television as a kid they were always filled with people, but now that they were empty the gold and the red and the blue and the green all seemed to have a magical glow to them.
Maple Leaf Gardens.
More than just an arena, it was a shrine, a temple to the great game that Canada had given to the world.”
- Edo van Belkom, Hockey's Night in Canada
The church of hockey
Built in less than six months, under Toronto-businessman Conn Smythe's leadership, Maple Leaf Gardens remains a shrine to hockey fans and a piece of Canadian history.
When its doors opened on Nov. 12, 1931, The Gardens were celebrated as an architectural wonder. Though the Toronto Maple Leafs lost their first game on the ice they would call home for nearly 60 years, more than 13,000 people attended the game. At the time, ticket prices ranged from $0.95 to $2.95.
The Leafs now play at the Air Canada Centre and, much to the dismay of hockey fans across the country, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., owner of the Gardens, are in negotiations with Loblaws Ltd. to turn the building into a supermarket by 2005.
“I think for example of the way we looked on girls, with their white skates and their hours on the nearby — but separate — “pleasure rink”…and were branded forever as outsiders.”
- Peter Gzowski, The Game of Our Lives
Not just for the boys
Gzowski's recollection of the attitudes toward the girls who skated in his neighbourhood is a far cry from the world of hockey today. Although women's hockey didn't become an Olympic sport until 1998, Canadian women have long been fighting for their fair share of ice time.
In 1981, 10-year-old Justine Blainey tried out for a male team in the Metro Toronto Hockey League. Though she made the cut, the Ontario Hockey Association barred her from playing the sport because of her sex. Blainey filed a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which ruled that it was unlawful to discriminate in sports on the basis of sex. Her case later made it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. She won, becoming the first girl to legally play with the boys.
Manon Rhéaume of Lac Beauport, Que., became the first woman to play in a major sports league. On Sept. 23, 1992, 20-year-old Rhéaume goal-tended for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a pre-season game against the St. Louis Blues. Rhéaume also brought home a silver medal as part of the first Canadian women's Olympic hockey team in 1998.
These women, and role models like Cassie Campbell (captain of the gold-medal winning 2002 Canadian women's Olympic hockey team), are inspiring more girls than ever to get out on the ice.
“The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places -- the school, the church and the skating-rink -- but our real life was on the skating-rink. Real battles were won on the skating-rink. Real strength appeared on the skating-rink. The real leaders showed themselves on the skating-rink. School was a sort of punishment. Parents always want to punish children and school is their most natural way of punishing us. However, school was also a quiet place where we could prepare for the next hockey game, lay out our next strategies. As for church, we found there the tranquility of God: there we forgot school and dreamed about the next hockey game. Through our daydreams it might happen that we would recite a prayer: we would ask God to help us play as well as Maurice Richard.”
- Roch Carrier, The Hockey Sweater
The hockey sweater
Roch Carrier's The Hockey Sweater is one of the most beloved Canadian children's stories.
First published in 1979, the story conveys the dreams of every child who's ever wanted to become a professional hockey player. Set in 1950s Quebec, the story is centered on a young Montreal Canadiens fan who, to his horror, is mistakenly shipped a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater and forced by his mother to wear it.
More than just a children's story however, The Hockey Sweater explores the complexities of our country: rival teams, the disparities between French and English Canada, and the rural landscape.
In 2002 the Bank of Canada launched a new $5 bill that features a quote from the story, marking The Hockey Sweater as a Canadian treasure.
Page 2 of 3: Explore the passion and dedication of hockey parents on page 3.
"You watch him play. You sit in the stands with his mother, freezing, in an arena filled with echoes. He comes out without his helmet and stick, skating slowly around the rink. Others move around him deftly. He stares past them, disconnected, barely awake. They talk to him, call his name, hit his pads lightly with their sticks. He nods, smiles. You know he's had at least four cups of coffee. You've seen him, drinking, prowling the house frantically.
As the warm-up drills begin, he gets into the goal casually. Pucks fly over the ice, crashing into the boards, cluttering the net. He skates into the goal, pulling on his glove and blocker. He raps the posts with his stick. No one seems to notice, even when he starts deflecting shots. They come around slowly, firing easy shots at his pads. He scoops the pucks out of the net stick. He seems bored.
You shiver as you sit, watching him. You hardly speak. He ignores you. You think of the cost of his equipment. Sticks, forty dollars. Glove, one hundred and twenty. Leg pads, thirteen hundred dollars. The pads have patches. The glove is soft, the leather eaten away by his sweat.
The game begins, casually, without ceremony. The scoreboard lights up. The ice is cleared of pucks. Whistles blow. After the stillness of the face-off, you hardly notice the change, until you see him in goal, crouched over, staring,
You remember him in the back yard, six years old, standing in a ragged net wearing a parka and a baseball glove, holding an ordinary hockey stick, sawed off at the top. The puck is a tennis ball. The ice is cement. He falls down every time you shoot, ignoring the ball, trying to look like the goalies on TV. You score, even when you don't want to. He's too busy play-acting. He smiles, laughs, shouts.
You buy him a mask. He paints it. Yellow and black. Blue and white. Red and blue. It changes every month, as his heroes change. You make him a blocker out of cardboard and leg pads out of foam rubber. His mother makes him a chest protector. You play in the back yard, every evening, taking shot after shot, all winter.
It's hard to recall when you realize he's good. You come to a point where he starts to surprise you, snatching the ball out of the air with his glove, kicking it away with his shoe. You watch him one Saturday, playing with his friends. He humiliates them, stopping everything. They shout and curse. He comes in, frozen, tired and spellbound. "Did you see?" he says.
- Rudy Thauberger, Goalie
“Not to be confused with soccer or Little League moms, hockey moms are passionate, driven, speed-worshipping slaves to ice time and the art and aura of puck control.
There's a lot I've learned in the year of the hockey travel team. I've learned to help my seven-year-old son Lucas suit up, down to the last snap of the helmet and tightening of the laces in fifteen minutes flat, without swearing, pursing, panting, grumbling, whining or stalking out of the locker room in frustration at the amount of time required to get in gear.
I've become adept at heaving the 20-pound hockey bag over one shoulder while passing through narrow doorways with the agility of a Cajun dancer executing a two-step.
I've gotten accustomed to early bedtimes before games for which we must rise at 5:00 AM to be on the road by 6:00, in the locker room by 7:30 and on the ice by 8:00.
I've gotten good at fitting the demands of my job, housework, errands and my children's music lessons, homework and religious school around the practices and weekend games (as many as five during some big tournaments).
I've learned to shrug off the sidelong glances from Hebrew school teachers who clearly don't approve of, or understand, why my son misses school nearly every Sunday. I've begun, only half jokingly, to tell friends whom we barely see between the fall and spring equinoxes that we've converted from Judaism to hockeyism.”
-Tina Lincer First, In the Penalty Box: Confessions of a Reluctant Hockey Mom
Over the years, hockey parents have been chastised for letting their major-league dreams overshadow their children's fun. Violence in the stands and off-ice psychological abuse prompted Hockey Canada, the governing body for Canadian amateur hockey, to launch an advertising campaign to get parents to cool it.
Despite a few poor sports, dark winter mornings and frosty arenas cannot hamper the dedication of most hockey parents.
Committed to their minor-league superstars, and the game, hockey parents dish out obscene amounts of money for skates and sticks, tote their kids to and from practices and games, and are there to cheer their kids on. It's all worth it to see another generation engaged in our national passion and, perhaps, that first triumphant goal.
Want to learn more Canadian hockey history? Check out these links:
The Hockey Hall of Fame
Find out about recent inductees and current exhibits.
All the information you need on the Canadian hockey circuit.
CBC's Hockey Night in Canada
Read the history behind a Canadian institution, Hockey Night in Canada, or find out what you missed in last night's game. Check out the CBC Archives for radio and television clips of Canadian hockey history.
The Hockey News
The Hockey News' online edition has all you need to know about scores and NHL news.
Manon Rhéaume's website
Learn all about the first woman to play in the NHL.
|Excerpts from Words on Ice: A Collection of Hockey Prose. Copyright © 2003. Excerpted by permission of Key Porter Books. All rights reserved.
No part of the excerpted material may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.