We realized shortly after we arrived in Canada that one of the keys to understanding Canadian culture is to follow and appreciate the sport — no, it’s greater than merely a sport, the Culture of Hockey. Hockey was invented in Canada, and ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ is probably the highest rated TV show in the country. I’ll bet it has been since it first aired. Typical conversation at work in the morning is about last night’s game (although for a lot of the younger programmers, these days they’ve been talking about UFC — Ultimate Fighting Championship).
What was the best way to become a participant in this essence of Canada? I’m too old to learn to play the game and it is extremely demanding athletically. So, being well-informed fans will have to suffice. The best place to start becoming a real fan is to participate in the biggest games of the year: the Stanley Cup Playoffs — that’s the final championship where the winners of the year face off. Since Hockey is so big in Canada, it takes up nearly half of the year to get to that point. While the temperature outside is balmy, and we’re seeing marvelously long days ending sunset between 9 and 9:30, they are still fighting it out on the rink. March may be the month of madness for College Basketball, and late January/early February may be the time for the Super Bowl, but June is the biggest month for Hockey’s final 7 games. This year it’s particularly good to get initiated into rooting for Hockey in Canada, because the final 2 teams are the South Carolina Hurricanes versus the Edmonton Oilers. We get to root for Hockey and Canada! (It’s no stretch for us anyway. Hailing solidly from the Northeast, we were never big fans of the Carolinas. I know there are plenty of fine people in South Carolina, and some beautiful stretches of coastline, but I must confess that I always associated the state with monstrous industrial hog farms, Jesse Helms — and I know, he was from North Carolina — OK, Strom Thurmond, and Big Tobacco.)
The first game of the Stanley Cup was last night. We did it right, drinking beer and watching from beginning to end. I have to admit, the game felt somewhat familiar, at least emotionally. Let’s see, it started out well, with an early lead, that reached 3 to 0. But the other team fought their way back, and tied the score. In the final minutes, the Hurricanes not only won the game, but a key player for Edmonton, goalie Dwayne Roloson was injured and will probably be sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs. In short, it had all the elements of a Boston Red Sox game: Early confidence, a mid-game crumble, a devastating injury, and final ignominy. Gee, we feel perfectly at home, at least in terms of the arc of our sports team. Hockey, baseball, it’s not how you play the game, it’s how you lose, and we had nearly 15 years of learning how to lose in Boston. I only hope that we don’t go 15 years here without any team in Canada winning the Stanley Cup.