How cliche that the first post on a Canadian's sports blog is going to be about hockey. I promise they won't all be, but I had an experience today that warmed my heart, even on one of the colder days of the year.
I was on my way to a lecture today, and as I rounded the corner of Brennan Hall I heard the familiar clap of stick on puck and the crunch of steel on ice. I made my towards the sound, and quickly my eyes discovered what my ears had already heard - about 8 of my fellow students playing a game of pickup hockey on a homemade rink in a vacant field beside the parking lot. It was strictly stick and puck, no pads, no referees, just pure fun. I took pause for a moment - wished I had my skates on me - and went on to class with a smile on my face.
This truly is a typically Canadian thing to do. In other parts of the world when it is cold, it is time for inside activities. In many countries, basketball is the norm, played in a warm gym where one can pretend it is summer in February. In other places skiing is the activity of choice, but bodies are bundled until no skin can be seen. Here were some young men wearing just sweaters, pants, and gloves, and playing the game they have played since their childhood.
As we see dwindling attendance at NHL games in the USA along with minuscule television numbers, it makes me wonder what it is that makes this game so popular in Canada while it is so generally unpopular in the States. There shouldn't be that much of a difference, but clearly there is. The game of hockey is so deeply engrained in the Canadian consciousness that it is impossible to separate hockey from Canada. Hockey has tried to change itself to appeal to Americans, but regardless of what they do Canadians will continue to love it. There is an innate desire to play this game - a thrill in making the good pass, and finishing a rush into the net. Americans, in general, do not share this desire, and would rather toss a football around or shoot some hoops. It is simply a cultural difference that will never be bridged.
After my lecture had ended, I headed back across campus and made sure to walk past the rink. No longer did I hear a game, but some men were still there. Snow shovels lay on the ground, having already served their purpose. A hose, nearly 300 feet in length ran out the window of a residence building, across the road, and onto the field where, under the cover of darkness, the rink was being flooded. By morning it will be a fresh canvas for the artisans of hockey to hone their craft upon. In sub-zero temperatures, these young men would rather sit outside holding onto an icy hose than sit inside a heated house doing much warmer activities. Brilliant.
Stephen Leacock, the great Canadian humourist wrote that: "Hockey captures the essence of Canadian experience in the New World. In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive."
It's really that simple, isn't it. To Americans, hockey is one of many sports to be played and enjoyed. To Canadians, hockey is what makes us alive.