I can’t believe I’m writing a post about hockey. I don’t watch hockey any more—not on TV, not during the playoffs (unless the Montreal Canadiens are playing!), not even our local junior team at the impressive new stadium.
Remember, this is the same person who, when she was ten years old, knew the name of every player on each of the six NHL teams. Who kept scrapbooks on the players. Who was glued to the scratchy French radio station beside her Papa listening to broadcasts of the Canadiens' games on Radio-Canada. Whose hero was Jean Beliveau.
So, what happened? Two things.
First, the NHL expanded to twelve teams, and then more, so that I didn’t know the players any more, and I didn’t care. Violence had become a characteristic of the game. Hockey was less about skill and more about intimidation and injury and maiming the stars on the opposing teams. Hockey talk centered around concussions, and hits from behind, and slashing, and enforcers. At the same time, life intervened—high school, university studies, teaching, children, children’s activities—I could not justify time for hockey.
Except . . .
International hockey and the Olympics, the second factor. I often made time to watch Olympic hockey, although I knew only a few of the Canadian players by reputation. After all, I had never watched them play. The attraction of Olympic hockey was that I didn’t have to watch fights. At the Sochi Olympics, in particular, the Canadian hockey players, both men and women, did their sport credit. I witnessed what the commentators described as a hockey “clinic” put on by the Team Canada Men. Strong defence, goal-tending that allowed only three goals in six games, forechecking, backchecking, buying into a game plan and sticking to it, and putting the team first and ego last. Who could not be equally inspired by the tenacity, conditioning, and sang-froid of the Team Canada Women, who came from behind to score two goals in the last four minutes of their gold medal game, and one in overtime, to win against the United States? So, this is what hockey could look like.
Now, hockey like that, I could watch. I would buy season tickets. I could support it because I might even believe the people who extol hockey as a way to teach life lessons and to build character. Positive life lessons, that is, and positive character traits.
So, thank you, Team Canada hockey 2014, men and women, for carrying the yoke of a nation’s expectations and managing the pressure. Thank you for the gold medals. Thank you for the example you set of grit, determination, perseverance, and selflessness. Thank you most of all for stripping away the ferocity of the NHL game to showcase your phenonenal skill and hard work, for reminding me and maybe other disillusioned folks out there of the thrill of pure, unfettered hockey.