What Hockey Taught Me About Life

I am a Canadian and for the most part, many of the stereotypes are true. Most of my friends say ‘eh’ and we do love hockey. I don’t watch it, many of us don’t. But put an ice rink in the middle of your block and someone will show up with beer to watch or play hockey. We will shine our headlights on the ice and let your stupid little sister play, although we had agreed that today was going to be a serious game.

As I said, I don’t watch hockey. I do not watch many sports outside the Olympics, and I watch The Olympics because I am a Canadian and that’s what we do. I love watching volleyball and pole vaulting, luge and Big Air, but nothing defines our nation like the game of hockey. Watching the Canada-USA game is a religious belief system here, and we have the best women’s hockey team in the world. Our men don’t do too poorly, either.

You can find a Maple Leafs fan anywhere, and they aren’t even any good. Sidney Crosby is a national hero. The 80’s Edmonton Oilers ruled the earth, and the highlights of the 1972 Canada-Russia Series still plays well on national television. My dad drove me into the city at 5:15 on a Saturday morning to play A-Team hockey when he literally had three jobs and three little kids. Canadian parents are used to sitting on cold benches, clad in team colours, with a thermos and box of oranges somewhere. Even those of us who put our kids in soccer and T-ball have driven to a rink to watch a relative or friend’s kid skate on the ice. I am Canadian. We made a beer commercial a cultural icon. Most of us say sorry more than we should. We define ourself but what we are (not American, socially conscious, more vain about our freedoms than we let on) and by what we are not (we are not American). We are Europe’s exotic and homespun little sister.

What some foreigners may not know, however, is that ice hockey was only part of the game. Street hockey is a revered Canadian pastime and most of us old-timers still have a street stick somewhere down in the basement. I played 2-on-2 on my boulevard for almost the entirety of my youth. Drive down any block on a warm summer afternoon in Canada and almost assuredly you will run into some kids pulling those iconic red hockey nets to the side of the road. We love hockey.

From the outside, hockey looks like a semi-violent and occasionally phallic warrior sport, but that’s only half the story. When you are floating on that fairytale surface with a puck on your stick, and you feel the blood pumping as you pass the defenceman, you can actually feel your comrade on the other side of the ice. Hockey is the ultimate team sport, where you are shamed if you do not pass the glory on to your teammate and trust that you are both completely in the moment together. It may not be Band of Brothers, but there is no denying the palpable intimacy of intention between the players on every hockey team.

It didn’t even matter if I was the one who scored. The glory of setting up a goal was considered a heroic act, applauded by the masses. Winning a hockey game is about talent and grit, but it is also about camaraderie and harmony and the depth of human connection. There are people all over Canada and beyond that I have scored a goal with, set-up a perfect spike with, done battle together on some field or pitch; and in many of those moments we shared connection that I don’t always get in traffic on a Friday night.

Hockey is volleyball on steroids. It may have something to do with how amazing the experience of skating really is. Hockey players glide, they fly, and the beauty of skating with a puck and a friend is not so distant from the sense of freedom that I have felt skydiving; it is poetic and sensual; it’s ice on your blades, hot cocoa on your breath, and stories of glory all the way home. It is bragging to your mom or dad while they rubbed your toes until you could feel them again. My dad used to take me for a frosted mug of A&W Root Beer on the way home after every home game. That’s Canada.

But again, this is only part of the story. Hockey is also about team. It is about ideals like sharing, and the belief that we could trust a brother or sister in a time of turmoil, while the enemy is in your end and time is running out. Hockey is our social religion, along with back bacon and John Candy and Michael J. Fox. Hockey is about heritage and hot chocolate and feeling like a real community; the deep cultural understanding that ‘we’ is always better than ‘me’. It is intimate and brave and built on the understanding that we will both believe in the same dream.

Can you believe the Americans beat us this year?

Loyalty Is Hard

Most of us can count on one hand the number of authentic, lifelong friendships we have. We would like to believe our friends at work and play are deep and meaningful but we know, because it has happened before, that after we leave we will gradually lose contact with people we have cared about. This is a natural, even healthy part of life. Friends come and go, the circle of life.

We have all been hurt by someone who said they would always be there for us. Perhaps we were more invested than they were, we made assumptions and believed that the other person cared as much as we did, but we were wrong. I too have been blindsided, more than once, by someone I loved with abandon only to find out that they had completely different feelings and assumptions.

Every day I counsel people who have been damaged by someone they loved. It helps, perhaps, that I have experienced a little bit of that pain and know at least something of what it is to ‘endure’. People disappoint and rare is the friend who you cannot shake, cannot offend enough to leave. I aspire to be someone like that, as many of us do.

In his book, You Can Make A Difference, Tony Campolo tells the true story of two men who were traveling together on a train out of Victoria Station in London. Twenty minutes into their journey, one of the men had an epileptic seizure and if you’ve ever seen this happen they you know how frightening such an attack can be. The man stiffened and fell heavily out of his seat onto the floor of the train. When this happened his friend immediately took off his own jacket, rolled it up, and put it behind the stricken man’s head. Then he blotted the beads of perspiration from his brow with his handkerchief and talked to him in a quiet manner to calm him down. A few minutes later when the seizure was over, he helped lift his friend gently back into his seat. Then he turned to the man sitting across from them and said, “Mister, please forgive us. Sometimes this happens two or three times a day”. And then, in the conversation that ensued, the friend of the epileptic explained. “My buddy and I here were in Vietnam together, and we were both wounded in the same battle. I had bullets in both my legs and he caught one in his shoulder. For some reason the helicopter that was supposed to come for us never came to pick us up. My friend here picked me up and he carried me for three and a half days out of that jungle. The Viet Cong were sniping at us the whole way.

Understand, he was in more agony than I was. Repeatedly I begged him to drop me and save himself, but he wouldn’t let me go. He got me out of that jungle, mister. He saved my life. I don’t know HOW he did it and I don’t know WHY he did it…but he did. Well, four years ago, I found out that he had this epileptic condition, so I sold my house in New York, took what money I had, and came over here to take care of him”.
Then he looked at his friend and said,
“You see, mister, after what he did for me, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.”


Real love is like that. When you truly love someone, not just think you do, but love them with every part of yourself there is nothing they can do to drive you away. I love my family like that. There is nothing my children could do, no crime or indignity they would commit, that would make me love them less. I’m reasonably sure you can understand what I am saying. Friendship, however, is not held together with blood. There is no legal contract, no external pressure forcing you to care. Friendship is about loyalty.


I do not hear much about loyalty, outside of movies and documentaries about the mafia.

Trust, faithfulness, sacrificial love, unselfishness, commitment –  character traits that are not automatic or easy to assimilate. Loyalty is inconvenient, it is costly. It walks in, as they say, when everyone else is walking out. It’s easy to talk the talk, make promises, spew platitudes; but it is another thing altogether to walk the walk. Loyalty shows up at three in the morning and holds your head when you throw up. Loyalty doesn’t keep track of slights or demand tit-for-tat.

Loyalty is hard.