I'm writing this on the eve of the Olympic Gold Medal match-up between Canada and the United States. This is a big deal for us. It's a big deal for them too. Hockey is a great sport played, and highly valued, in many countries around the world.
For Canadians it's our national sport. We play it all across the country and every province has it's own championship. Entire states in the US haven't a clue what the fuss is all about. To be fair, not every single Canadian is a champion of the sport either.
It's a lot more personal for me. Growing up in the military and moving from community to community; hockey was a constant. In Germany, we'd go to the arena and watch my dad play teams from all over Europe. At Christmas, Santa brought us hockey sticks so that we could play in the lane with Dad. We were young kids living in a foreign land staying connected to home through a game my father grew up playing with his father and three brothers.
In Kingston, we were old hands at road hockey. Glenn Holland made me play in net because I scored more than he did. If only I'd known then that some day women would play hockey in the Olympics. I was a fairly sharp goaltender, as much for self-preservation as through skill. As a family, we'd go to OHL (Ontario Hockey League) games and watch young stars of the future.
In Summerside, PEI, I only dated hockey players. That wasn't saying much. I think every young man in our community played that sport. We drove all over the province with the Away team. My favourite rink was the one that had live trees as the corner posts of the building. On our way home we'd stop at the one and only McDonald's on the Island for a milkshake. To this day, I can't believe the machine never once worked. We'd laugh and sing all the way home. Because the military was such a small world, one of the forwards was a young man I'd played road hockey with in one of our German postings. I loved hockey so much I tried out to be a referee. I cannot tell you how many hours Dana and Gerald Walker spent trying to teach me to skate as fast as the boys so that I could keep up. I never mastered that stop without toe picks. Who knew then that balance was so far out of my control? But I aced the written part of the referee test.
We moved to a small Northern Ontario town when my dad retired from the military to become a teacher. I was a teenager and had no point of reference with these new kids. Most of them had grown up together. But they had an arena. The entire town supported that team and I made friends through a sport I knew as well as I knew my own name. The articles I wrote for the local paper helped me get into college.
I studied Broadcast Journalism at Niagara College and fought hard to be one of the first years lucky enough to cover the local hockey games. Arenas were my comfort zone. I grew up on the sport. I'd watched Tony McKegney play as a junior in Kingston, long before he hit the NHL and Buffalo. While I wasn't a stats junkie, I still knew my stuff. I convinced the teachers to give one of the cameramen and I the same hockey test. Whoever passed could do camera for the next game. I won - by a huge margin. In my second year, I was doing colour commentary for the local cable channel and getting credit in school. Two years later, crew was being determined by knowledge of the game, not gender, as it should have been all along.
I'm not sure where that passion for hockey went. Over the last few years, other things have taken precedence. I haven't been to the arena in far too long. Thanks to the Olympics all the memories of hockey in all those towns has come rushing back. This is OUR game, in large part because of geography. We play it on ponds, on roads, in lanes, arenas and television. We connect over this sport. No matter how far from home,or where our travels take us, strangers become friends and we bond over this game.
While I know the following is merely a commercial selling a product, the music at the 48 second mark perfectly illustrates how I feel where hockey is concerned. Enjoy. And no matter who wins the Olympic Gold Medal, hockey will remain Our Game. It's a lot more fun now that the rest of the world plays with us.