April 1999
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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 and Russia).

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 stats.

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 Song:"

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

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