4 Nov

Hockey captures the essence of Canadian experience in the New World.  In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive.  ~Stephen Leacock

I am well aware that many people in Canada and around the world really like hockey, but I am not afraid to tell you that I have absolutely no interest in it. As a matter of fact, I have negative experiences with the game, or rather, the way the game affected men in my life.

When I was a kid, Saturday nights during the fall and winter were scary because I could hear my father yelling at the TV, but I didn’t know why. (Sat. nights were also irritating because of that nasal-voiced 1970s  CBC sports announcer. Gainey… Gainey… Gainey.” )  As an adult, I lived for a few years with a man whose father had been drafted into the NHL, and consequently, my guy, who we’ll call Vincent, essentially grew up in a locker room.

Vincent was and probably still is obsessed with hockey. Obsessed. So obsessed that it became masturbation. During hockey season, he watched every game and dove into the Toronto Sun ‘s sport section on hockey day when the weekly hockey statistics were released, studied them, and recorded them into the binders he kept full of numbers. When his family and friends called long distance, they didn’t talk about their lives or how they were doing, they’d talk about that week’s hockey game.

As I was new to Toronto, I wanted to go out and explore, so every weekend when I’d ask him to go out, his response was, “nah, I’m going to stay home and watch the game.” (Hello, sports widow.) Eventually I stopped asking him and because I needed more attention, I went outside of the relationship for it. (Shrug.)

Red ice sells hockey tickets.  ~Bob Stewart

The language used in sport is interesting to me as a non-competitive person because it’s all about one being better than the other: me / my team against you / your team, I beat you, your team sucks, etc. One against another can only breed hostility, and the terms that are used in association with hockey are reminiscent of war and conquest:

  • the Vancouver Canucks obliterated  / axed / annihilated / shellacked the Calgary Flames
  • players can be enforcers, snipers, attackers, or goons (whom I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley)
  • “fight straps” are worn on hockey jerseys to keep from being pulled over a player’s head during a brawl

Now admittedly, it’s hard for me to follow the game because I’m not sure what they’re doing except trying to slide a piece of rubber into a net, and it’s hard for me to follow, let alone find the puck on the screen. Until I see blood on the ice, I don’t understand what’s going on.

During my research for today’s blog, I watched some terrible visuals and read about some horrifying injuries from slashed throats to ruptured testicles, and collected some startling statistics about concussions in hockey:

  • 759 players have been diagnosed with concussion since 1987
  • concussions rose by 41 % between 2005 – 2007 in the NHL
  • 17 players suffered a total of 21 concussions in 52 games in Ontario Junior Hockey last year

Try as I might, I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the appeal of this game.

How would you like a job where, every time you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?  ~Jacques Plante

Despite the fame, the glory, and the salary, I imagine that playing professional hockey would carry a huge amount of stress for various reasons. Hockey is pretty big business – Forbes reports that the average NHL hockey team is worth $223 M and NHL league revenue is $3 B (source), so imagine what rides on a player’s performance – the fans, the merchandise, the bookies, the kids, all that money. That’s a lot of pressure for a young guy to shoulder. What about the shame of making a mistake on the ice and the people without anything better to do making humiliating Youtube videos of your screw-up, setting it to music, and sending it forth to forever float through cyberspace.

Though a professional player has plenty of time to plan for his inevitable retirement from the game with a well-padded bank account,  knowing that after a certain age, his sports career is over and his body, now toothless and battered,  can never be restored to its once prime condition. Sounds terribly depressing, though probably much more bearable if you have tens of millions of dollars in the bank.

Sports are a chick flick for guys. ~Michael Kimmel

In Guyland, American sociologist Michael Kimmel explains how important sports are to men individually and in the company of other men, suggesting that “Guys like following sports partly because it’s a way to talk with other guys without having to talk about your feelings. It’s a certain conversation starter in any uncertain social situation – walk into a party, a bar, a classroom, and say, “Hey how ’bout them Mets?” Instant bonding.”

I interviewed some adult league hockey players and they mentioned bonding and “hanging out with the guys” as part of the appeal of hockey. I personally support any opportunity for men to spend time together, even if they’re not talking about their feelings (though I think there is a chummy, affectionate relationship between sports buddies). I think that men get a charge out of being amongst their own because like dogs – pack animals, they thrive in groups and they’re happy together.

I expect that playing a game of hockey is one hell of a workout and I know guys enjoy the physical challenge and the exercise. Gets the blood flowing. Hockey is also a healthy outlet for stress, one of my interviewees tells me (“I leave my problems on the ice”), and another fella says he skates off his aggression. Oh, and Jim, one of the players who spoke to me, said that he plays in a “beer league” – “I play hard so that I deserve beer later.”

Now that I’ve looked a little further into the game that unfortunately became the vehicle of Vincent’s emotional inarticulation, I kind of understand the appeal of hockey, though hockey obsessions won’t do anyone any favours. Hockey should not be used as a way to avoid your emotions; time with the fellas is important,  but there must be a balance between hockey time and non-hockey time, especially if there are women present. If Saturday nights are reserved for Hockey Night in Canada, don’t neglect your women and maybe make Friday nights a date night – we’ll love you for it.

5 Responses to “Hockey”

  1. Dan McIntyre November 4, 2010 at 11:04 am #

    Once I went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out.

    I think hockey raises other issues like economics. I raised 3 kids on a modest income. My son loved baseball, basketball and soccer…..and was ambivalent towards football and hockey. But I admit to encouraging the former and not the latter. Less expensive, less prone to hurting people, and probably more fun.

    Very few hockey players come from lower income communities. In the US, black kids play football and basketball.

    Anyway, interesting article Leah.

  2. Lisa November 14, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    Thanks for that Leah, I share most of your concerns, and must admit that I have often talked about the violence associated with the game. Being from Saskatchewan every male I knew played hockey in some shape or form. My husband being one of them. My only response I have for you is that in raising a sensitive, caring emotionally aware son, I can only hope that he takes that on to the ice. He loves the game, jumps out of bed for his 6 am practices before school. To see him so excited and passionate about the game brings a smile to my face. He knows how I feel about the hitting and fighting in the sport, and for now he agrees.

    BTW… Hockey is expensive but, it costs 750$ for the season, from September to March, so when you spread it out its not so bad.

  3. Leah Morrigan March 3, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Hi all, this New York Times article from March 2011 about Bob Probert may cast a light on brain trauma and hockey:


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  2. Uh, this may help « In the Key of He - January 27, 2011

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