Canadian Content Part IX--
Hockey: A Chance to be a Canadian Winner
By John Hansen
On my fridge door, held up by a Virgin Mary and Child magnet, is a
hockey card featuring former Montreal Canadien Guy Lafleur. I'm not a
big sports fan. I find these days people have little or no loyalty to
their favourite teams and players have little or no loyalty to the game.
It's all about corporate sponsorship and brand recognition. The days of
the greats, Joe DiMaggio, Maurice Richard, Mohammed Ali, these who did
it for love more than money, are gone for good.
Still, in this country, just as the USA has its legends of baseball and
football, we too have our legends in hockey. This is odd when you
consider that there are only six NHL teams currently in business in
Canada compared to the, what, 893 US based teams. What's next, the Santa
Fe Cacti? Anyway, it seems to me, though, that hockey resonates as more
of a cultural touchstone here than anywhere else (except maybe Sweden
There is little doubt that it became popular because we have long, cold,
dark winters. Where most people would sensibly stay at home, millions of
Canadian parents have traditionally gotten up for their kids' 5 am
practices where they swing by Tim Horton's for a coffee and pile into an
old civic arena that was built in the forties and would watch their kids
play under a portrait of Queen Elizabeth at the far end of the rink. If
Canada was Australia, hockey would never have developed. We'd have
surfing teams or something instead.
It was in those rinks and on frozen ponds across this country that the
best players who ever held a stick spent their formative years. Richard,
Lafleur, Belliveau, Lindsay, Howe, Messier, Gretsky. The fans know their
For a real fan, a perfect Saturday involves having the guys over, a
couple cases of beer, and watching Hockey Night in Canada. With its
familar theme song, the bombastic Don Cherry doing commentary between
periods, and interviews with sweaty Swedes who want to just give "110%,"
the true fans know that to enjoy a televised game, they do not need a
blue streak on their pucks, and they do not need to know that when a
power play is over the "team is at full strength." Yeah, no shit Fox.
It's a pretty good bet, too, that if you're a Canadian music act, you
should probably record a song about hockey. Stompin' Tom Conners has the
most famous one, a twangy country with the minimalist title: "The Hockey
The band who is best known for hockey songs would be the Tragically Hip.
A song which has become a signature is "Fifty Mission Cap" which traces
the story of Bill Barilko, the Toronto Maple Leaf who scored the winning
goal against Montreal in game five of the Stanley Cup finals in 1951.
For his summer vacation his went fishing...and then disappeared. The
Leafs didn't win the cup againt until 1962 when his remains were found.
A more recent song, "Fireworks," recounts the aforementioned winning
goal of the 1972 Canada-USSR series:
"If there's a goal that everyone remembers
It was back in ol' 72
We all squeezed the stick and we all pulled the trigger
And all I can remember is sitting beside you
You said you didn't give a fuck about hockey
Well I never saw someone that before
You held my hand and we walked home the long way
You were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr"
It's when Canada takes its game on the road as a nation that we become
jingoistic. One thing at which excel as a nation is winning
international competitions. The World Junior Championships. The Canada
Cup. Those are ours. In 1972, during the Canada-USSR series Team Canada
did something few others had done before: beat the Russians at hockey.
The winning goal, scored by Paul Henderson, has become one of the
pivotal moments where those old enough to remember (I was one year old)
will ask others where they were and what they were doing when the goal
was scored. We have to do this as our prime ministers never get
assasinated by men with three names. However, it's during the Olympics
that we continue our other tradition: not beating Team USA. As far as
international hockey competition, the USA is to us what the old USSR was
to the USA: someone. we. just. have. to. beat. At some future Olympics
we shall slap the USA around like someone's prison lover.
Read the fake April Fool's column by Jason Morrison