Just to note off the top, I’m not much of a sports fan. I have trouble sitting through any televised broadcast, and I am often indifferent watching sports live. I look around and start to pretend things are happening just to keep myself amused. I imagine Goldie the Goldeyes’ mascot dancing with a stripteasing monkey, or that the seats are like venus fly traps which slowly consume the entire audience.
Strong supporters of sports shouldn’t take this too hard though; I do this during many movies and on long walks or drives. And to be fair I find watching anything on television for more then 45 minutes a fairly trying experience, so it’s not necessarily the sport’s fault.
But there is one sport that, when viewed live, has always held my attention. More than holding my attention, it grips me and makes it hard for me to turn away. It’s just so fast-paced and action-packed. So full of drama that changes course in the blink of an eye.
Nothing, nothing in the sports world gets me more amped than skates on ice and bodies being smashed into the boards. It’s the national blood sport that brings out the ferocious animal hidden beneath the smiles of almost every Canadian. Where other countries have nuclear weapons or terrorists, our best weapon is and has always been hockey. If the war in Afghanistan was fought on ice, it would have been over in under an hour.
Only in a hockey arena do I freely sing “O Canada” without a glimmer of skepticism. Sure I quickly return to skepticism once I exit the building, but the air around the rink just yanks it out of me for an hour or two. It’s only in a hockey arena that mobs of loud shirtless children don’t irritate me and drunkards don’t offend me. Even more telling, it’s only in a hockey arena that I can dance freely without worry of looking silly. So dance I did, with my wife, during the break between the second and third period of a Moose game against Toronto.
I was born and raised in this country. I’ve been outside it’s borders for no more then two weeks total in my entire life. It’s certainly not a bad country, and I feel lucky to have been sprouted here as opposed to most other places in the world. Yet most nationalist sentiments scare me. We’re not really better than anybody else. If anything we just lucked out to have had Britain do all the killing and exploration for us, only to just hand it over to us when the time was right. Because of this I often feel like our place in the world wasn’t really earned, but simply given to us at the stroke of a pen, because Britain was in the mood. In many cases, what wasn’t given to us by the British was imported here from the American culture machine or purchased from us by American corporations. Basically, there is very little we have to call our own.
Except of course, hockey.
The reason hockey is so important to our national identity is because it can pull people like me in. Not only into the sport, but into a sense of belonging to the country itself. This power is strange and magical, but it’s there. Anything that causes me to feel temporarily diluted with warm feelings towards a large body of people must be magic!
No wonder our nation’s deepest Olympic concerns surrounded hockey. Cindy Klassen was there too, but she was a distant second to hockey. It was our game, on our land, and had we lost gold to anybody it would have bruised our collective ego. However, losing to the U.S. would have been tragic. Such a loss had the potential to make us feel as though what little identity remained our own was suddenly in jeopardy.
Hockey is one of the few things we have that sets us apart and unites us. You need only walk down any street in Canada after our Olympic hockey victory and listen to the collective cheers against blaring horns to feel united as one nation. If we couldn’t claim our Olympic crown from our powerful, more independent brother, what crown would we have? We’d already lost HBC to them, and are still reconciling with Tim Horton’s; to have placed hockey in jeopardy may have been too much for us to handle.
Hockey is important to us because it’s the only thing that, no matter what, we identify as Canadian. And in proving my canuck upbringing, it’s the only sport that can hold my attention.
Though there is very little that makes us feel Canadian, hockey may be enough.