She was not wrong.
A tale of triumph and heartbreak
I think the original question asked was “why is hockey so fascinating?” but the answer to that is obvious (“um, because it is AWESOME”) so instead I will address the issue of why Canadians in particular find hockey so fascinating. I could tell you it is just a stereotype and hockey is not really a cornerstone of our national identity and culture, but that would be a dirty dirty lie.
During the Olympics it became shockingly apparent that many of you do not know the first thing about hockey, so for the benefit of this post allow me to explain.
Hockey (or “ice hockey” if you want to be redundant, because all other kinds of hockey are irrelevant), as you may know, is the single greatest sport on Earth. It was invented in Canada back in the day and do not let Sweden tell you otherwise how dare you Sweden. Each team has six players on the ice at one time, provided they do not have a penalty – that’s three forwards (right, centre, and left wing), two defensemen and one goalie.
You have to be a special kind of crazy to be a goalie.
The object is to put the puck in the other team’s net more times than they put the puck in your net. Although in men’s hockey you can do things like hit people who have the puck (“checking”), you can not do things like whack them with your stick (“slashing”) or elbow them in the head (“elbowing”). Sometimes there are hockey fights, and what this really involves is pulling the other guy’s sweater over his head and then skating in a circle for a while.
YEAH MAN. HARD TO SKATE WHEN YOU CAN’T SEE, ISN’T IT? YEAHHH.
With the exception of the Winter Olympics, Canadians primarily just watch the NHL. There are five Canadian NHL teams of note, those being the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, the Calgary Flames, the Edmonton Oilers, and the Vancouver Canucks. There is also the Toronto Maple Leafs, but we don’t talk about them.
Right on, random baby.
Which leads me to…
1. We are bred that way.
My dad has been taking me to hockey games since I was about 3. The first game I went to was one with Gretzky playing, and the only thing I can remember is that I liked the warm-up because there were so many pucks and promptly became very bored when the game started and it went down to one puck. Pretty much every kid in elementary school reads The Hockey Sweater in either French or English, a story about a Canadiens fan whose mom orders him a Maple Leafs jersey. This story – and hockey itself – is so intrinsic to Canadian culture that it is on our 5 dollar bill.
No, seriously, it is:
That block of text reads “We lived in three places – the Church, the school, and the skating rink. But our real lives were on the skating rink.”
2. Hockey is the Canadian version of patriotism
So, aside from hosting the Olympics and the occasional Canada Day, there are basically only three things that make a Canadian feel particularly patriotic: beer commercials, Tim Hortons commercials, and hockey.
However, in order to be patriotic, you will notice that beer and Tim Hortons commercials often turn to hockey. For example, during the NHL lockout (a dark, dark time which meant “no hockey”), Molson Canadian (yes, we have a beer called “Canadian”) aired this commercial:
And when the NHL lockout was over, they followed it up with this one:
Tim Hortons usually tries to take a more sentimental approach:
Particularly astute marketing teams from other companies are quick to hop on the bandwagon. This Coke commercial aired constantly during the Olympics:
I mean, we even had a hockey player light the Olympic torch.
Look at how thrilled he is!
3. It is basically the only thing someone from Nova Scotia and someone from Vancouver might have to talk about.
Canada is a very diverse country full of in-fighting and official language bitching. Quebec keeps threatening to flounce and the West wants more attention and in Newfoundland they club seals to piss off Europeans.
But even Quebec and Alberta would sit next to each other on the chesterfield if it meant they got to watch the game.
4. It is the only sport that matters.
While other countries might express interest in multiple sports at once, in Canada it is basically only hockey. During the lockout, sports bars basically went “well, shit.” My dad was reduced to watching baseball, but his heart was not in it. I have heard that in Saskatchewan they care about football, but no one cares about Saskatchewan.
It is also the only thing Canada is particularly spectacular at on the world stage. Canadians are secretly pretty smug, so this is opportunity to show off is a big deal. During the Olympics I heard from various overseas sources that there was all sorts of complaints that the other events were poorly run and organized because “Canada only cares about hockey”. This is probably true. I have no retort. Most Canadians could not tell you what biathalon even is. I also remember reading an article which claimed that most Canadians would readily give away their medals in every other event if only they could have golds in hockey. This is also factual.
The single greatest moment in Canadian history. You think I’m kidding.
That gold-medal game was the most watched broadcast in Canadian history. The second most watched broadcast? Another hockey game.
Which leads me to…
5. It is the only thing we can beat the US at.
From a Canadian perspective, the US is kind of like a big brother who barely pays attention to you and likes to show off a lot. As a result, Canada is constantly and paradoxically seeking approval while simultaneously trying to assert its superiority. This is why Canadians get so excited when Americans acknowledge their existence on television (thank you, How I Met Your Mother), and it is also why we love nothing more than to cream America on the ice.
Because all of our best players end up playing for American teams, Canadian NHL teams are full of Swedes and Slovaks. During the NHL playoffs Canadians will put aside their own particular jerseys in order to root for whichever Canadian team makes it the furthest
This guy? CANADIAN.
The downside to this is that Americans never actually really care when we beat them, whereas all 30 million of us probably would’ve slipped into a depression if Sid Crosby had not delivered that final goal. If you do not believe me, just ask goldy_dollar how she is feeling today after the Habs loss last night. Should the Flyers knock out the Habs, the only remaining Canadian team in the 2009-2010 playoffs, Canada will collectively sigh, chug a brewsky and wipe a single tear. We will mutter about how no one in San Jose or Chicago or Philadelphia even cares and then we will repeat the familiar refrain of “there’s always next year”. For a couple months we will make hockey sleep on the couch, and then we will start talking about drafts and trades and line changes over Timbits.
Well. Mostly, anyway. goldy_dollar and kazutakia might blow something up first.