It’s been quite a while since I’ve jotted any original thoughts here, mostly due to the fact the Boy and Devil’s minor hockey careers are regrettably well behind us. We may still get to see the occasional university intramural game (which all will admit lacks the competitive drive and drama of a rep game). And even these occasions will now be limited to the Devil as the Boy’s university days are shockingly behind him. When the hell did those 4 years go by? A question I’m sure he’s likewise puzzled by as he officially enters the world of working adults.
However, while the tug of minor hockey has subsided, my love of the game certainly has not. In fact, Momma, the Devil and I probably spend more time watching NHL games together now than we ever did before (#GoSensGo and #GoPredsGo for those likewise following the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs), since we were always to busy with our own games. Hockey was and is seemingly ingrained in our DNA, as the six years worth of posts and over 15 years of memories transcribed here will attest.
So I was very excited to have received an invitation a few months ago to visit The Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec for a guided tour of a newly launched Hockey Exhibition. The exhibition, which runs from March 10th – October 9th, is a celebration of hockey’s place in Canadian history and its effect on our culture. Fitting such an exhibition is held in the year of our nation’s 150th birthday celebration (and the NHL’s 100th anniversary) as the game has been central to our cultural evolution. The exhibition’s tag line properly and succinctly states, “Hockey in Canada: More than just a game!”
This past weekend, Momma and I had the distinct pleasure of being guided around the exhibition by one of its co-curator’s, Jenny Ellison. She pointed out the project was three years in the making with 280 unique and rare hockey artifacts from the museum or purchased/borrowed from other collections and private collectors; many of which have to be seen to be properly appreciated.
The exhibition begins appropriately at the beginning of Canadian hockey time with one of the first hockey sticks ever used, which is really no more than a somewhat stick-shaped tree branch, juxtaposed against a photo of pioneer women fighting over a “puck”. I should not have been, but was a little surprised to learn manufactured rubber pucks were preceded by those made of rock, wood and occasionally frozen cow dung. I guess yelling a player had a shitty shot may or may not have been considered a chirp back in the day (insert GROAN here). Dr. Ellison noted the exhibit aims to highlight the importance of both indigenous peoples and women on the game, which is borne out and prominent in many of the installations.
Jerseys and gear are naturally a big part of the displays as well, with the older pieces naturally garnering the most attention as they differ so much in terms of their quality and size. Jacque Plante’s pretzel mask is quickly recognizable by any true hockey fan; though even calling it a mask is a stretch. Anyone who knows a little hockey history, knows there’s a radical difference in goalie equipment from past to present. Hell, there was a time when goalies didn’t even wear masks, though there was also a time when you weren’t allowed to raise the puck off the ice. By comparison, today’s goalies are sufficiently padded and armoured to withstand slapshots in excess of 160 km/h. The hooked tree branch you see at the outset has been replaced by graphite composite designed to generate the force behind those shots.
Other iconic gear of note includes Gretzky’s Jofa helmet, Teemu Selanne’s rifle aka his stick, five-time Olympic medalist Hayley Wickenheiser’s skates and Sidney Crosby’s game-worn jersey from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics gold medal game against the U.S. (a noted coup for Dr. Ellison and her team).
I was pleased to be able to make a couple of friendly suggestions for Dr. Ellison’s “future file” as I suggested both the aluminum stick and Cooperalls were, for me, noticeably missing from the range of historical gear on display. I used both in my brief, but brilliant, minor hockey career. Perhaps their omission is on purpose as, in retrospect, neither was a particularly good idea and both went the way of the dodo bird in the late 80s and 90s respectively. You need only get cross-checked by an aluminum stick once or twice to appreciate the error in the metal’s application.
- Paul Henderson’s game winning goal in game eight of the 1972 Summit Series
- Sidney Crosby’s goal in the aforementioned 2010 Winter Olympics
- Marie-Philip Poulin’s game tying and OT winning goals in the gold medal game against the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (btw, she also scored both goals in the gold medal game at the 2010 Olympics.)
- Mario Lemieux’s game winner in the 1987 Canada Cup. The goal assisted was Gretzky, but the play was started by Dale Hawerchuk (a certain someone’s favourite player of all time) with a defensive zone face-off win where he tied up two Russian opponents to create the historic opportunity for his teammates.
Feel free to argue amongst yourselves as to which of the moments listed above is indeed the Canadian capstone. I’m sure you’ll find equal numbers of those who will agree and disagree.
There is, of course, also an area dedicated to hockey fans and fandom, which contained several interesting and unique bits of memorabilia (a few too many of the Toronto Maple Leaf variety, but who am I to complain.) There are all manner of hockey trading cards, vinyl records and even NHL cookbooks, which were apparently a thing back in the 80s. One particularly interesting piece from the Mike Wilson (Ultimate Leafs Fan)’s collection is the game-worn and blood-spattered jersey of one Frank “The Shawville Express” Finnigan who won the Stanley Cup with the Leafs back in 1931-32. Next to it lays a pennant from the 1920 World and Allan Cup Champion Winnipeg Falcons (#GoWinnipegGo). No Canadian exhibition would be complete without an homage of the famous childhood story of “The Sweater” by Roch Carrier or the opportunity to play a game of bubble hockey; both of which have their respective spots.
Circling back to the effect of the game on society, Dr. Ellison shared one of her favourite pieces is an actual hunk of a plywood used to cover broken windows from the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup hockey riots. The wood is covered in messages detailing what people were feeling about the game, the city and the riots; a mixture of sadness and anger. The piece is another clear reminder of just how hockey is more than a game in this country.
Now, rather than continuing to steal the museum’s thunder with my virtual trip down memory lane, I highly recommend any fan of hockey or Canadian history buff visit the museum and the exhibition before it closes. I guarantee you will not be disappointed and will likely learn a thing or two.
We’re told minor hockey registration in Canada has been falling over the past several years for a bunch of reasons; but the two primary I’ve heard are cost of hockey and player safety. The cost of playing hockey is not going to go down any time soon, though there are several initiatives out there to try to offer low cost options for those just discovering the game. But hell, what sport or activity for kids isn’t getting more expensive; particularly if your children are getting involved in competitive sports? I can attest to the unweildy cost of the game having raised two competitive players for 15+ years. $200+ composite sticks and $600 skates certainly didn’t help. Still, I have friends competitive soccer players, gymnasts and dancers who likely spent as much or in some cases more to support their kids’ passions. So there’s likely not much we can really do about the cost of the game.
However, there are ways the game can be made safer, keeping in mind it is still a fast sport played on a slick surface with sharp blades attached to player’s feet, stiff formerly wooden, but still solid, sticks and hard rubber pucks shot at each other on purpose. There are lots of people and companies out there looking for innovative solutions to keep kids relatively safe and thereby ease the fears of parents considering letting their children play Canada’s favourite winter sport.
One such company I’ve recently come across is Oneiric Hockey founded by Emily Rudow, a Waterloo grad and hockey lover in her own right. She and her team have developed an innovative pair of protective hockey pants designed to make it easier for kids to dress themselves (which every parent of a young player can appreciate) and to provide extra protection to vulnerable areas of players’ bodies (parent benefit number two). The cool Under Armour-like pants have pockets in front to slip in and hold shin pads in place, enabling kids to put on their own shin pads and negating the need for rolls and rolls to disposable hockey tape. One year, the Devil accumulated and carried around a giant ball of used clear hockey tape at least the size of my head. Correction, quite often it was me carrying around said ball. Score three goals for player self-sufficiency, lighter hockey gear and saving a little money on tape.
The next two equipment innovations are the addition of a cut resistant material around the ankle area and some extra padding on the back of the thighs where hockey pants often fall short. You need only ask Erik Karlsson how important protecting this area is after he suffered an achilles injury a couple of years back.
Emily at Oneiric sent me a pair to “try out.” As a “retired” hockey dad, I unfortunately no longer have my own players to provide feedback and I certainly wasn’t going to fit this old body into a pair for a rec league game, so I passed them along to a friend of Momma’s who has an 11 year old playing competitively. To say she is a fan of her new pants would be a blatant understatement. Her mom says they are so “comfy,” she’s been wearing them around the house like pajamas (not something she’s likely to keep doing after having played in them a few times and building up the old familiar hockey smell). Mom and dad are happy about their young player being able to get dressed and undressed quicker, along with the peace of mind the added protection provides. She is only playing Atom now, but accidents can happen at any age when skates, sticks and ice are involved. As an interested bystander with a hockey dad history, I can appreciate the benefits this important piece of equipment bring and wonder why its taken so long for someone to come up with this type of innovation. Oneiric has been getting some positive press of late and with good reason; they are trying to help save our beloved game by making it a little bit safer for our young players who a key to its long-term stability and growth. I’m a big fan of anyone who’s focus is on protecting kids and encouraging them to play hockey safely. So thanks to Emily and her team for their vision and commitment. I encourage hockey dads and moms to check out Oneiric at http://www.oneiric.ca/.
Disclaimer: I did receive one pair of Oneiric Hockey pants at no cost, but have received no other compensation to publish this post.
I hesitate to scribe anything here for fear of upsetting the Hockey Gods, but the improbable little David and Goaliath (yes, I’ve spelled it wrong intentionally) story the Boy’s Junior C hockey team is authoring right now is well worth sharing. You see the Shamrock’s (or Shammies to their closest fans) regular season performance at 14-23-3 would best be described as lacklustre. I believe they suffered from common Jr C afflictions including injuries, absences and intermittent apathy. The squad limped into the playoffs with a come from behind tie in their final contest of the year vs. the team who owned the inauspicious last place in the standings. Expectations were not high heading into the first round against the #2 team in the league who bested their point tally by 13. The only saving grace was they avoided having to play the number one team who were the undoubted cream of the crop. All this said, the Shammies did show flashes of brilliance in the 14 victories there were able to secure and we hockey veterans all know the playoffs are an entirely different season. A little luck of the Irish couldn’t hurt either.
Round 1 would open nearly three hours away from home in enemy territory where the Shamrocks had previously fallen by scores of 8-1 and 5-0. Not exactly trending in a positive direction. However, the few devoted fan who made the trip to witness the inaugural playoff match (present company and Momma included) saw a completely different team take to the ice and dominate their opponents in an impressive 6-4 victory, which at one point included a 5-1 lead. Did I mention how playoffs are an entirely different season?
Momma and I were begrudgingly unable to attend the next three games as we embarked on an uber-Canadian trip to an Ice Hotel, but we intently followed the Shammies online as they took a 3-1 series lead following a 4-0 thumping on home ice, a slim 2-1 loss back in their opponents’ barn and then a 4-1 dagger to the heart in their friendly confines.
Game 5 day arrived and brought with it a good ol’ fashioned Canadian snowstorm. I’m not usually one to let a little snow get in the way of watching a crucial, potentially series ending match, but local law enforcement was advising against non-essential travel and in fact the road to the game was closed in both directions for over two hours. However, the game was inconceivably not cancelled so the team made the perilous trip and showed up 10 minutes after the game was supposed to begin. We would reserve ourselves to again following online, not expecting much from the boys who had been stuck on their bus for over 5 hours, which is not particularly conducive to high athletic performance. And yet, we followed from afar as the Shamrocks quickly opened with a one and then two-goal lead. The Boy would later recall how the second goal was the proverbial nail in their foes’ coffins. The final score in the fifth and final game of Round One was 5-0. The upstart Shammies more than pulled off the upset to advance. Up next, the aforementioned cream of the crop who blew threw their first round opponents, outscoring them 26-9. To say David had his work cut out for him was an unmitigated understatement.
Game one of the second round would see the underdog Shamrocks travel to play Number One in the rink where they had only lost one game in their previous 40. Slim odds to be sure. Goaliath’s strength would be evident early on as they would spend an inordinate time in the offensive zone. The Shamrock’s goaltender (who is sporting the league’s best GAA and Save Percentage in the playoffs) had to be on his game to keep the puck from getting behind him. Despite the league leaders’ dominant play, the Shamrocks would weather the initial storm and trail only by one goal heading into the third period. The score would remain the same until about 4 minutes left when the visitor’s would take advantage of a miscue and throw up a match-tying marker. Then, with only 29 seconds left and on their second powerplay in 2 minutes, the seventh place squad would shock their foes with a go ahead goal. Undaunted and in dramatic fashion, the home team would find a way to force a 20 minute sudden-death overtime with on only 6 tics left on the clock….and exxxxhaaaale. The Shamrocks would take a penalty a few minutes into OT and their game one road fate appeared to be sealed. But Lady Luck smiled again as a D-to-D pass was intercepted and turned into a game winning breakaway goal. In all honesty, it was the first breakaway goal I’ve witnessed them score this entire season. Maybe there were others, but this one came with pretty good timing if you ask me. David cast the first stone.
The series moved to Erin last night, where the Shamrocks knew they’d most likely woken up Goaliath and the Boy said the pre-game chatter was all about bracing for an expected onslaught. And while the visitors came on full-force, the home team more than held it’s own and counted the first two goals to the delight of the largest contingent of Shammies fans in the stands to date. The worst score in hockey (2-0 for the uninitiated) was erased by the series favourites a few minutes into the third period thanks to a 5 on 3 powerplay. Just a few minutes later, following another defensive miscue, a Shamrocks forward was able to poke the puck over the opposing keeper to push the score to 3-2 causing the stands and the Home team bench to erupt in unison. A no doubt shocked coaching staff was forced to pull their goalie in favour of an extra attacker with a couple of minutes left in the game. The undesired result was an empty net goal for the good guys who cast the second unlikely stone.
Which brings us to Game Three tonight back on unfriendly turf where the Shamrocks will look to take a stranglehold on the best of seven series. This battle is far from over as the favourites will no doubt come out guns-a-blazin’ and the visitors still have their work cut out for them. The Boy, for his part, is feeling the effects of two hard-fought series and an ill-timed head cold, but winning has a way of easing bumps, bruises and sniffles.
Regardless the outcome this evening or in the series, the boys in Irish green have certainly represented themselves well and turned the tables on an otherwise underwhelming season. Kinda reminds me of another team who not so long ago beat the odds and nearly went all the way. In the process, the Shammies turned back the clock for at least one hockey dad and mom who are relishing every nail-biting moment.