Tuesday, March 19, 2013

To understand hockey is to understand Canada

The Bettman-induced shortened National Hockey League season is a little more than half-way over. In another few weeks playoffs will begin. Hockey fans are happy, especially north of the World's Longest Undefended Border™ where "local" teams are doing surprisingly well.

To their fans' surprise -- and likely their own -- the Toronto Maple Laffs, although in a tailspin at the moment, are still playoff contenders, as has not been the case for years. And Walt's dear MontrĂ©al Canadiens -- Canada's team [Florida's too! Ed.] -- are leading their division. All is well with the world.

Why is that Canadians -- or a large proportion of them, at least -- get so passionate about hockey? Canuck sports writer Bruce Dowbiggin claims it's because hockey is a metaphor for Canada itself, a physical expression of the Canadian soul. So he writes in The Meaning of Puck: How hockey explains modern Canada (Key Porter, 2008). Here's an excerpt.

With their vast horizons and often passive nature, Canadians (English more so than French) are not necessarily a contemplative people and hockey is not a contemplative game. The Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford called it "an uninteresting sport played by Canadians." For many Americans -- used to the pauses and ellipses of baseball or football -- it is a busy, baffling spectacle. "Hockey on radio sounds like one long mistake," said former NBA coach Gene Shue.

Like dental surgery, hockey is a business best gotten on with briskly and without too much contemplation. Even when the pauses arrive in the sport -- be they intermissions or the contrived TV breaks -- there is little self-examination involved in hockey. Players have just enough time to catch their breaths, spit multiple times and then go at it once more. Fans seize a beer, put the kids to bed and then resume their appointed rounds. That matter-of-fact approach appeals to Canadians, its brisk rhythms warming them against the snow.

There's more in that vein, plus Mr. Dowbiggin's traditional diatribes against fighting in hockey and Don Cherry. Mr. D. succeeds in proving only that, in spite of having relocated to Calgary, he remains one of the latte-swilling, gentrified urban elite who, while they may understand TROC (The Rest Of Canada -- the Tim Hortons drinkers), are not a part of it.

Memo to Bruce Dowbiggin from Ed.: Next time, go with a publisher who's willing to spend a few Beaverbucks on editing and proofreading. "Steve Santos"? C'mon! And the index is a joke -- apparently compiled by someone who never read the book.

Note from Walt to Floridians: If you don't believe what I said about les Canadiens being Florida's team, go to a Tampa Bay Lightning or Florida Panthers "home" game and count the number of sweaters bearing the CH versus those with the logo of the "local" team.

Pop quiz: When was the last time five "Canadian" teams got through to NHL post-season play? You'll find the answer in "It looks like most of Canada will finally get to enjoy the NHL playoffs", in today's National Post.

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