I’m a Boomer, and the Captain of my heart growing up was Yvan Cournoyer, small, speedy, uncouth and unconventional. This is the time of year when life becomes all about two things that are important to me; hockey (the Stanley Cup) and sailing (my boat goes in the water).
I loved Cournoyer because he was the kind of hockey player I thought I would have been, if I could skate; quick, evasive and pint-sized. I can’t do any of the Canadian winter things though, like skating or skiing. I’m strictly a summer Canadian. The only thing that gets me through the winter, when my boat is up on the hard, drifted in snow, is hockey. Lots of hockey.
I subscribe to NHL Game Centre, which gives you the feed for every out-of-market regular season game. I can watch wretched palm-tree city teams play each other if I want to (I don’t), and I regularly watch local broadcasts from Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Buffalo and New York. The ads are fascinating. The one thing in common is personal injury lawyer ads in every city. Detroit runs booster ads about how the city isn’t dead yet, while the ads in Nashville are all for trucks and BBQ.
Mind you, I don’t watch very closely. I find I need to have a hockey game ranting at my elbow when I’m writing – it helps the concentration. I like the rhythm of the announcer’s voice and the noise of the crowd, rumbling on with the obsessive play-by-play, occasionally rising to a fever pitch as a goal is almost made, or almost missed, and then subsiding again. The best thing is a game that gets tied up in the middle of the third period. Overtime! Shootout! Excitement!
Then there’s any gamed called by Bob Cole. The octogenarian CBC announcer makes every pass a thrill, every icing call a crushing disappointment, and when he says “Oh baby, it’s all happening”, you know it is, indeed, ALL happening.
I root for the Habs, les Glorieux, les Boys, Olé Olé Olé, le bleu blanc rouge. I always have, ever since my Captain was Cournoyer. But I’ll cheerfully support Detroit, Chicago or even the dreaded and hated Bostons into the playoffs. Any original 6 team but the Leafs and the Rangers. I won’t support the Leafs because who needs that much heartbreak. It’s like dating a monstrously rich woman for years and never getting to first base. The Rangers were bullies when I was growing up, and who can root for a New York City team, any team, anyway?
Commissioner Bettman pursued his controversial sunbelt strategy to the detriment of hockey, I think. Better to have a small market team in Duluth or Saginaw or Hamilton selling out every night than a big half empty arena in a city where there are no skating rinks. You can’t develop the passion for speed and excitement inherent in hockey unless you know the 5 AM practices and shitty coffee while freezing at the local rink as you watch your kid do skating drills. I think hockey is positioned as a blue collar sport in the US, ceding the elite audiences to more stately pursuits like baseball and football. The fighting doesn’t help this image. In cities where winter is real, however, hockey is everybody’s game and is a great leveler.
I recognize palm tree teams have won Stanley Cups, and the Kings almost deserve to play in a northern city. But look at what the legendary Edmonton Oilers have been able to do. A post-WHA merger team in 1979, they won 5 Stanley Cups almost in row, due to players like Wayne Gretzky, Jarri Kurri and Paul Coffey. There’s an orthopedic surgeon who lives in Edmonton who has more Stanley Cup rings than the Chicago Blackhawks. Edmonton, pop 750,000.
I have a dream. A Canadian division of 10 teams in the NHL. Add Quebec City, Hamilton and Saskatoon, all cities which would blow the roof off an NHL arena. A shorter season with more championships. US-Canada series. Bring back full period multiple OT. Gritty hockey played in gritty cities, with game misconducts for fighting and full face masks. Oh, and forget the Olympic sized rinks, hockey’s more fun when it’s played on something the size of a frozen swimming pool.
By day, I worry about flushing the diesel, draining the anti-freeze, sanding the decks and painting the bottom of my boat. By night, I worry about PK Subban and Carey Price. It must be spring.