A couple of days ago I noticed and responded to a casting call posted on Facebook for a documentary succinctly titled The Hockey Film. “The Hockey Film is a full-feature film documenting the lives of real, everyday people who “eat, sleep, and breathe hockey”. It is a unique passion project undertaken by an independent, naturally Canadian film director, goalie and all around lover of hockey named Chris Aylward. Since July 2015 when the project began, Chris has travelled around the world to seek out, capture and tell stories primarily about grassroots ice and ball hockey, though he has also interviewed a few professionals to get their perspective on the game. Over five years, he has visited The Canadian Pond Hockey Championships in Haliburton, Ontario, The Walter Gretzky Ball Hockey Tournament in Brantford, Ontario and even New Zealand to check out the Backyard Hockey League and follow the journey of their national hockey team to the World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.
This movie seemed like a fitting place to begin my on-screen career in the wake of my too long neglected I’m a Hockey Dad blog. I actually used one of my recent 200 Words A Day posts on Men Playing a Kid’s Game as the basis for my casting call submission, which asked for a synopsis of my hockey “career” and a declaration of my own love for the game. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Chris a couple of days later inviting me to a shoot bright and early the next morning at a rink just a couple of hours down the road. So I packed up my gear and headed south to spend a couple of hours on the ice skating, stopping, shooting and mugging for a camera.
The process was a bit lacklustre as the eager film maker had a few no shows, including his second cameraman. I shared the ice with a bunch of young boys and girls, who reminded me of The Boy and The Devil in their early years. One kid, in particular, challenged me to a race and then promptly went crashing into the boards, which in turn, brought him to tears. Later, he gleefully told me I smelled like pee, to which I replied, “If you play this game for any length of time, you too will be lucky enough to smell like pee.” I don’t think he was too impressed.
One other highlight of the session was being scolded by an old-timer/rink rat who took exception to my mismatched hockey socks; one black and one yellow with an alternating black and white stripe (a look I’ve sported for some time). His contention was hockey is a team game and, as such, every player should wear the same team uniform. He suggested I consider tennis or golf if I wanted to be an individual. I assured him I meant no disrespect and would do my best to henceforth conform, but I hope he never shows up at any future Iceholes games.
At the end of the two-hour session, I was very grateful for the opportunity to be included in what I consider an important gift to Canadian culture. The experience was awesome. I will do what I can to help Chris promote his “little film,” as he called it, through this blog and my social channels with hopes of seeing it reach audiences near and far via places like the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). How could they keep something so purely Canadian out, eh?
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.
The central highlight of the exhibition is a mock hockey rink housing static reenactments of arguably the most significant events in Canadian hockey history:
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.
Great look at a few familiar, funny and not-so-funny stories I can relate to from my own 15+ years as a hockey parent having been on many of “those” teams and away to a few infamous games and tournaments. Of course, I was always one of the “good” ones 😉 and the parents I hung around with weren’t all bad. Having been with other teams in other sports I can confidently say it’s not just a hockey thing.
Kudos to Joe O’Connor for exploring the dark side.
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.