Saturday 22 February 2014

For Fun

Tonight I am going to talk about hockey, particularly Canadian hockey. I suppose I have been thinking hockey because of the Olympics and how well Canada is doing this year and how well the Canadians have always done when playing internationally.

I suppose I should preface this with a disclaimer. I don’t really know very much about hockey. I didn’t play when I was a kid, other than road hockey. I didn’t play as an adult. I didn’t sign my kids up for hockey because I don’t think that hockey is a sport that develops the traits that I believe are important in life. I chose Soccer for the kids instead. I don’t watch hockey generally, but I do make exceptions for playoffs and the Olympics. Even then, I drift in and out when I hear cheering, sort of making my own highlight reel. In short, I don’t really care that much about hockey.

Now, having said that, I am becoming somewhat concerned about the state of hockey in Canada. I’ve had conversations and watched some discussions on just this subject this week which is in itself kind of odd. Hockey is one way that Canadians identify themselves, along with maple syrup, maple leafs and beavers. Other countries have those things, but for some reason we Canadians have attached them to our collective lives. If we lose hockey, we are stuck with the maple tree and beavers, neither of which help us win medals at the Olympics.

When I was growing up, pretty much everyone played hockey in one form or another, we didn’t need organized leagues to play, we just stood in a line and the two best players would pick their teams. The games would go on until the guy with the puck got called in for lunch or the puck was lost in a snow bank. We could do this because there were a lot of outdoor rinks, some in backyards, but most in schoolyards. The rinks were maintained by dads who loved hockey and their kids. My dad would give up a couple of nights a week to go and flood the school rink so that the ice was as good as he and other dads could get it. I guess the city provided the hoses and water supply, but all the work was done for free. That kind of thing doesn’t happen any more and I don’t know why.

I suppose that it could be a result of global warming. I know that although the past two winters have been cold, a decade and a half before it would have been difficult to maintain ice in Calgary. It could have been done, but the rinks would have needed to be shaded. Personally I think that greed and apathy have played a major role in the demise of hockey. Someone somewhere realized that there was money to be made renting ice time to kids playing hockey. I’m sure that the original idea was to have the kids playing on perfect sheets of ice, with proper coaching and equipment. What actually happened over time is that the kids (like me) who were hockey challenged would drop out because they couldn’t compete and others would drop out because they couldn’t afford the ice time or cost of equipment. In effect, somehow when it became organized, the fun was taken out of the game.

Now there are too many indoor activities for the kids, so why would they go outside to play on a cold rink. Why would they walk to the school with their skates on their shoulders when their parents will drive them across the city to play hockey in an indoor ice temple with perfect ice, change rooms and vending machines. Why would they play with kids two years younger than they are who aren’t any good when they could play with kids the same age and ability. Why would they spend hours arguing about the rules when a paid, adult referee will keep the game running according to the official rules? Why would they play with old sticks and homemade pads when their parents are willing to spend $1000 on the official CCM equipment?

Why? For fun!

Until we can figure a way to get fun back in the game for everyone, Canada will continue to look back on our glory days.

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