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GROWING UP WITH A CANADIAN OBSESSION
Hockey in Canada is more than a favorite past time it is an obsession. There is something stemming from the genes, that pulls parents out of bed at 4:30 on dark weekday mornings to go sit in a cold arena, hunkering around travel mugs of coffee, to watch their children pass puck after puck around the slippery surface. Even the Canadian five-dollar bill pays tribute to the game with pictures of pond hockey and a quote from Roch Carrier’s short story “The Hockey Sweater”. “The winters of my childhood were long, long seasons. We lived in three places – the school, the church and the skating rink – but our real life was on the skating rink.”
Being a creative, artistic sort, I’ve never understood the fixation on this game that moves too fast and has an undercurrent of violence with all the body checking and clashing of sticks. Then, one cold day in January, I gave birth to a baby boy. Maybe it was being born into the coldness of winter that gave rise to his obsession with hockey. But I should have recognized something was up, when at 1 year old, he turned a long shoehorn into a hockey stick to bat a small ball around the floor. I have the picture to prove it. Twelve years later, the hockey stick of choice costs over $200 and is made of lightweight composite wood with a flex 100 Sakic curve.
I chuckle at the memory of my five year old hockey player being forced to sit through a demonstration of his younger sister’s dance class. “I don’t like ballet,” he said to me, with all seriousness and thought, in the car on the way home “there’s no action.”
As the years go by, the hockey skates get bigger and the hockey schedule gets fuller with more trips to the arenas in surrounding Canadian towns. Hockey has given us reason to see more of our province than would have been our natural inclination. I may not have shopped the main streets in all the downtown cores but I have been to all of the hockey arenas.
I have finally figured out what “off-side” means. And even though, I don’t always catch the penalty calls, I understand a bit of the strategy that goes into putting the puck into the net.
Every year, the play goes a little faster with the increase of the kids’ skill level. Every year, the shots get harder as do the body checks. I no longer wince when my son gets checked into the corner. Although, we all still hold our breath and mentally will a downed player to get back up because we know that the next big hit could be against our child.
I can finally hold my own in a hockey discussion with the other parents and understand why everyone gets so upset at a bad refing call. I roll my eyes and throw my hands in the air out of disgust with missed scoring opportunities. The bird’s-eye-view perspective from the stands get us every time as the spectators criticize the plays not so obviously visible from the level of the ice. “Yes, I see the sign that reminds us that every referee is someone’s child… but, come on, he should have called that.”
With every passing year my son gets older, it is like I am growing up with hockey just like the rest of Canada.
In our area, there is a small window of opportunity that is anticipated as soon as the last leave falls from the trees. It is the moment when the little lake near our home freezes solid enough to hold the weight of a person. This window only lasts a few short weeks before the water moves again. But as soon as the ice starts to creep towards the lake centre, the kids daily ask, “Is it time yet?”
Last year, we watched as our small lake began to freeze. The kids enjoyed throwing stones onto the thin sheet of ice to hear the wobbling sound it makes as the rocks skid across the surface. Every day we checked the thickness of the ice on the way to school. Then, ice fisherman started to appear, dotted here and there across the white expanse. And sure enough, the shovels came out and small clearings for rinks appeared in the snow on the ice.
One sunny day after school, I brought the kids’ skates so they could spend an hour on the small frozen inlet. Before we had arrived, another boy whom we had never met had spent some time clearing the snow off a small area of ice.
Once he saw that we had come to join him, his face glowed with excitement. He was proud of the small rink he had worked so hard to create and couldn’t wait to try out his hockey skills. He had brought some extra pucks and animatedly talked about putting up boards around the edges so that the puck wouldn’t escape.
With skates tied, the kids stepped out onto the ice. Backpacks were placed on either side of the rink to stand in as goal posts. Right away the pucks were passed between blades, when I realized the cleared space wasn’t quite large enough. As the kids played, I decided to take up the shovel to push back some of the snow.
I stepped out onto the lake and looked down through the clear ice. Never growing up near a natural, outdoor rink, I was fascinated to see the fish swimming below. Surrounded by snow-covered mountains, the air was crisp and fresh. It was neat to see the world from this perspective not available to us most months of the year, as we don’t own a boat. Standing on the middle of the frozen water in my boots, I actually cursed myself for not bringing the skates that pinched my feet.
Other kids appeared out of the woodwork with skates and hockey sticks in hand. Previous players, where another impromptu game had broken out, had left a hockey net on another cleared rink across the lake. Our little lake was soon bustling with action.
But all too soon it was time for us to leave as our busy schedule pulled us away with groans of protest. Plans were made with strangers to meet up the following day to continue the game.
I wouldn’t say that I have caught the ruling, consuming passion of hockey, as of yet. But I do appreciate the appeal of the concoction of the suspenseful adrenaline rush laced with camaraderie that binds Canadians to this game. I am not at a place yet where I will sit glossy-eyed and glued to the television to watch Hockey Night In Canada. We’ll see when my son makes the NHL. But I will say this, “I get it.” Shh… don’t tell my husband.
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