Meditations upon a national sport

A number of Think pieces have been appearing of late about the good old hockey game.

In the April issue of the LRC (not available online) Chris Dornan had a truly stellar piece about “Our Violent National Game,” asking (inter alia) why this lawless game sits (and has sat since the 1870’s) at the centre of our supremely lawful nation; why the Leafs can peddle bits of the net that receive Sundin’s 500th goal at $40 000 a pop, given that they suck and have always sucked (well, for 43 years anyway); why we mythologise what is, after all, just a fun game that occasionally turns into the Ultimate Fighting Championship.  I’m in favour of mythology, and I like watching hockey, but things are certainly out of whack when our biggest accomplishment as a country (in our own eyes, anyway) for the last decade has been winning the Olympic gold medal in a sport in which we have only two or three serious competitors.  It’s a bit like the Zurich canton having fits of self-love because they won the yodeling competition.  The joke’s on us.  Which isn’t to say it’s not a triumph, but honestly we need more triumphs if we’re going to see it in perspective.

Coincidentally with Dornan’s piece, the cover story of the June 2010 issue of The Walrus (not yet up online) is “Whose Game Is It?  How the Americans are hijacking hockey” by David MacFarlane (also titled “Hockeyland” — anyway, it’s on Page 32); it’s about going to hockey games in the American sunbelt and looks interesting.  Also, Bruce Croxon in The Mark argues that we should have bigger ice surfaces so as to cut down on injuries and generally make the game faster and more fun (like 4 on 4 or the Olympics).  I think it’s a great idea: I hate all that grinding on the boards.  What people like about hockey is the pace, and that’s as much about passing as it is about skating.  It’s certainly not about backchecking or the Trap (which ruined the game for about seven years).  But is reform even possible?  How undignified is it that our National Game, our Pride & Joy, our act of self-definition par excellence, should be in the hands of Gary Bettman and his legion of cynics and whores?