The making of Tom Cochrane’s hit song ‘Big League’ and how it became a ‘Canadian anthem’
In 1988, Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, a well-travelled Canadian rock band with a handful of hits already on the air, released an album featuring an unusual song about the sport of hockey. What made it unusual was its duality: An aspirational opening leading to an adrenaline-coated chorus, blending into what appeared to be a deeply depressing story.

The song, Big League, is four-and-a-half minutes long, and told through the voice of an anguished hockey parent from an unidentified northern town. Their son was going to play in the eponymous Big League, having earned a scholarship to play with “a big U.S. team” until tragedy struck down his dreams, and also theirs.

Canadians bought more than 100,000 copies of the album within a month of its release. A critic from the Toronto Star wrote Big League was “powerful,” the Vancouver Sun hailed it as a “moving anthem” and the Ottawa Citizen described Cochrane as “hockey’s man of the moment” in U.S. markets, which was not faint praise considering Wayne Gretzky had been sold to the Los Angeles Kings only a few months earlier.

The lyrics are based on a true story, but the names have remained a long-held secret. The song has inspired a generation of would-be hockey parents, and it has also been played at memorial services to honour players who have died too young. (Photos: Laura Pedersen/National Post)

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