Sometimes it is easy to forget the game played on frozen ponds and backyard rinks, and get lost in the overwhelming professional sport known as hockey. However, we strive to remember that hockey became Canada’s game because it made our never-ending winter months more bearable . The game gradually became a sport, then an entertainment industry. It seems like the lockout was one of the biggest news stories of the year. Part of the amazing nature of the game is that it’s origins are fairly vague. However, we always remember that hockey is our game. It may not be our official sport, like lacrosse is, but hockey is what Canada seems to be most well-known for, and it continues to have immense influence on our free society, with its unique style and attraction. We invented it, we had the best players, and have so many cultural ties between the game and the people. Hockey has had and still has an incredible influence on Canadian culture.
Canadians are hockey crazy. The people love the ever-changing game, and the land and the winter are every where. One reason why everyone is so attracted to it is that we really needed a sport we could claim as ours, that we could play yearlong. Canadians are out where they shouldn’t be, doing what to others seems to make no sense. Only a few scruffs of trees and buildings distract the eye from its vastness. What we needed to tie us together had to have a feeling that travels throughout the country with attributes we all have in common, things we care about, things that help us make sense out of what we are. It is a hard feeling to achieve.
It seemed that so much about Canada set us apart: topography, distance, language, climate, rivalries and cultures. Hockey became a winter passion for both players and watchers. It kept coffee row humming. It was a means of winter fitness, and the driving force behind the building of community centres, the way in which widely separate communities connected with each other. Before there were malls, kids would hang around in hockey arenas. Before Zambonis could be found in every hockey rink in our land, it was the kids who would fight for the right to clear off the rink so a barrel of hot water could be wheeled out for the flooding.
The origins of hockey are vague, but it seems that the early game was a combination of lacrosse and rugby on ice. Not very exciting to watch, but rugby and lacrosse players used it for winter recreation. The championship system spurred the game’s popularity. The Stanley Cup created natural rivalries between teams and cities. All the while, rules changed to make the game faster, rougher, and more exciting. Professional leagues grew all over the country. The great rivalries between Toronto and Montréal drew in loyal, rabid fans [Dryden]. It is tempting to glamourize the years before the NHL expanded, and before the rest of the world discovered hockey.
The terrific Canada-Russia series of 1972 showed that international hockey could generate the same excitement and fan loyalty as the domestic game. Canadian hockey fans remember with pride that hockey remains Canada’s most significant contribution to the world of sports. Hockey has been a part of life in Canada for over one hundred years. Thousands play it, and millions follow it. Hockey’s evidences are everywhere. In Canada, hockey is one of winter’s expectations. It is played in every province and territory. It is hockey’s reach into the past that makes hockey such a vivid instrument through which to view Canadian life. In little more than a century, hockey has moved from pickup games on rivers to amazing games televised on Hockey Night in Canada.
Another impressive detail we must acknowledge is that the games greatest players had pure Canadian heritage, which made hockey’s popularity soar. Canadians know that we’re good at what we do, and that’s why hockey has been incredibly important in our society. For instance, Wayne Gretzky. Born in Brantford Ontario, he is well known for his record-breaking all time point record of 1,850 goals. This fact is irrefutable. Gretzky also coached the men’s’ 2002 Olympic team [World Almanac & Book of Facts]. When he was traded for multiple Los Angeles players in 1988, Canada was set into somewhat of an emotional earthquake. This shows how dedicated we are to supporting our home-grown players.
Another hockey great, who was purely Canadian, and proved his worth in the game of hockey, is the amazing Rocket Richard. He was known for his excellence, but was also just as well known for his great spirit and love for the game. He, as well as Gretzky, was given the honour of being among the best in the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1955, Richard was, without thought, suspended from the league, Canada, especially Montrealers, went into complete uproar, inducing numerous death threats upon the president Clarence Campbell, as well as what has been called the worst riot in Canadian sports history. This example really shows how dedicated Canadians are when backing up their own players, the ones they know are the best.
Yet another great example of hockey’s influence on Canadian culture is the legendary Bobby Orr. Orr was born in Parry Sound, Ontario, and was well known for his excellent defensive skills. Although Bobby played most of his career for Boston, he has not been forgotten as having Canadian birth, and that is something Canadians hold very important in their heart. They love him so much for his homeland, despite the fact he played for our toughest opposition. He is another great player that attracted a lot of attention, specifically in Canada, to the game. That attention still lives on.
Another profound reason for hockey’s great influence on Canada is that there are so many cultural ties from our society to the game. A great example of this is Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons has one of the most successful marketing operations in Canada. Tim Hortons stores are plentiful in Canadian cities and towns; it is said that you can find one within four or five blocks wherever you are in any city. The chain has expanded aggressively across urban Canada and also into small rural towns.
There are now over 2,350 outlets in Canada. [Skogan] Due to its powerful and effective branding, “Timmy’s” has established itself in the top class of restaurants in Canada and in the heart of Canadian culture. Tim Horton, the founder of the chain, was known for his excellence on the rink as a professional hockey player. Because one of hockey’s greatest players founded the most well-known food chain in Canada, it gives it another tie to Canadian culture, which weaves into people’s lives, even when they go to buy a coffee or donut.
One also associates the game of hockey and the NHL with Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC). A cultural institution since it was first broadcast on radio in 1933, HNIC has been a TV mainstay since 1952 and is today one of those rare programs that still appeals to a wide cross-section of the population, and draws around 2.1 million viewers a week on average [Cox, Damien]. The satisfying double-header of hockey action is drawing roughly 6.7% of the
nation’s population. That is, until the lockout, which is driving Canadians mad.
Another instance of our life without hockey is how angry the hockey fans were when they learned that Ron Maclean, sidekick to Don Cherry, was not to get his contract renewed as the program co-host for the 2003 hockey season. CBC was blanketed with thousands of complaints and petitions when they made the press release, and they lost the support of the executive producer of HNIC, Joel Darling [Wilson-Smith]. From this it is obvious Canada backs HNIC with love, and HNIC is just one foundation that makes the game’s impact and grip so strong on Canadian culture.
Finally, one of the greatest reasons why hockey has such an influence on Canadian culture is because we have been lucky enough to have experienced culturally defining moments within the sport. Hockey has been enjoyed for approximately a century now, and that left many opportunities for our athletes to shine at our favourite sport. The 1972 Summit Series was probably the most recognized milestone in Canadian hockey, when Canada’s best played eight games against Russia, with the final game being won by Paul Henderson of Canada, in the last few seconds, for a 6-5 win, giving them the series [Wilson, par. 10].
Another great example of how crazy Canadians have been for hockey over the years is the 2002 Olympic Gold. It was an excellent win over the U.S, and re-established our reign of power in the hockey world. Within the excellent story of the ’02 gold medal, there is a more heartfelt story of Trent Evans, an ice-maker, who embedded a loonie at centre ice, for a little extra luck [Proctor]. This dedication is what helps Canada stand out, and what gives it aa place in our culture today, because of all the amazing moments in the past.
Hockey has had and still has an incredible influence on Canadian culture.
So many things factor into Canada’s fascination with the sport of hockey. We discovered it, and took the time to practice and dedicate ourselves, giving us some of the best players in history. We linked our country as a whole to the sport, fortifying it as a national symbol, and we succeeded, with many moments that stand out in hockey history, to reminisce, and reflect on for the future. It’s a wonder why it isn’t our national sport.