I've had a fractured relationship with sport at points in my life. I grew up both extremely smart and very athletic as a kid. My parents naturally pushed me more in athletics than in academics. By the time I was 16, I hated any form of organized sport, mostly because of the mysogynistic, homophobic, troglodytes that were my teammates. By the time I moved away to attend the University of Toronto, I had completely lost interest in hockey, pursuing my interests in other forms of culture, both high and low.
A few years on, I started to feel more comfortable with my varied personalities, just at the same time I started to think about what it meant to be Canadian. Naturally, I regained an interest in hockey, and now consider myself a bigger fan of the sport than I have at any point in my life.
Here are my five reasons I love hockey:
One: Hockey brought my family together. Watching hockey games on Hockey Night in Canada with my family are some of my favorite childhood memories. On Saturday nights my sister and I would get into our pajamas, sit under a blanket by the fire and fight off sleep until the end of the Maple Leafs game. We ate up Don Cherry and Coach's corner. I often would grab my goalie equipment and mimic the saves of Felix Potvin in real time. I think many Canadian kids have similar experiences, and I doubt there is an experience that more defines the modern Canadian family.
Two: Hockey brings strangers together. I love the camaraderie and the tribalism that is borne out of watching hockey with fellow fans. This is never more true than when Canadians gather in groups to watch World Junior or Olympic games. There is something really special about being in a room and feeling a common goal with a room full of strangers. Many sports have this, but rarely is it so unifying as it is for Canadian hockey. East, West, French, English. We all gather to watch the game we love and route for our Country in unparalleled ways. Which brings me to:
Three: Hockey is Canadian. No, it's not exclusively Canadian. But it plays such a significant part in the narrative of our country, in the same way that baseball plays a significant role in the narrative that defines Americans. In fact, few things, beyond Terry Fox and Vimmy Ridge, are so universally recognized and revered by Canadians. I think Douglas Coupland wrote that it is in our blood. His mother, having never watched a game of hockey in her life, new intimate details of the concussion history of certain players. We play it on roads and in rinks and on ponds and in the school yards. Even other games (like soccer) end up looking like hockey when Canadians get involved. I'm proud to be Canadian, and hockey is a big part of who we all are.
Four: Hockey is fun. When I gave up playing hockey, it wasn't fun. It was a chore. But in the last few years, I've started playing shinny in Toronto at the Riverdale outdoor rink. I can hardly skate. I can't stick handle. And 10 year olds look like Jason Spezza as they deke around me. But I feel like a kid for those few hours a week. You almost can't pay me to get off the ice. The ice overlooks the Toronto skyline, and usually there is a dusting of snow in the air. It's a beautiful scene, and it's easily the most fun I can have in a night. It's also fun to watch Leafs games with my wife at home, or out at the bar with my closest friends. It's fun to look at stats and draft fantasy teams, and to dream ahead to the seasons beyond. Hockey is fun. Plain and simple.
Five: Hockey is both beautiful and rugged. I challenge anyone to find a sport that has such an inhuman combination of grace and skill with physicality and ruggedness. The slick graceful skating of a Scott Neidermayer and the stick handling Pavel Datsyuk is such a huge contrast to the ruggedness of Dion Phaneuf and the downright dirtyness of Chris Pronger. No where do athletes do as much, as quickly as they do with a puck in hockey. And no where to players work harder night in and night out. Goalies can lose up to 10 pounds of sweat in a game. And in the playoffs, games can last 120 minutes or more, and are played every other night. It's so impressive as to seem inhuman at times, but it's not . It's hockey.