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?