The recent rash of injuries in professional hockey has caught the attention of Gov. Gen. David Johnston, who says that fighting — like high-sticking and head-shots — shouldn't be part of the game.
In an interview with Power & Politics host Evan Solomon, conducted on skates on the rink outside his Rideau Hall residence, Johnston talks about his love of hockey and its place in the psyche of the nation.
"Hockey I think is a wonderful ... tribute to Canada. It's a game that's vigorous, it is our outdoors, we take advantage of winter.
"I call it the beautiful game because it is the fastest game in the world," said Johnston. "The intricacy of the play ... combines both a virtuosity of individual efforts but always as part of a team."
Johnston was an all-star player himself for Harvard University after playing on a 17-and-under team in Sault Ste. Marie with future NHL stars Phil and Tony Esposito.
Asked about a "cultural war" some see in hockey now between a tough style of play that includes fighting and the skilled part of game, Johnston was diplomatic but clear that he prefers the skilled game.
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"What other sports say [fighting] is a part of the game? Least of all in this game, because the essence of this game is the speed and the skill and playmaking."
No place for fighting or head shots
Johnston said he believes a number of things can be done to reduce the risk of concussions that have plagued star players like Sidney Crosby and raised the concern of parents of young players.
"If we want our children, both our boys and girls, to be playing this game we don't want them to be subjecting themselves to concussions and so on."
Those steps include redesigning hard-plastic equipment so it is less dangerous, eliminating head shots and high-sticking and, "and fourthly, I think fighting is just ... it should not be a part of the game."
Johnston said he suffered three concussions himself by the time he was 16, two from football and one from hockey — until his family doctor convinced him to wear a helmet, an unpopular choice in those days.
Johnston also said one of the great developments in hockey in the last 25 years is the emergence of women's hockey.
"They play the game as I love to see it played," Johnston said. "The best athletic contest that I've seen in the last 20 years have been the Canadian national women's hockey team playing the U.S. national women's team.
"About evenly matched, tremendous contests," Johnston said, recalling in particular the Canadian women's gold medal win at the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002.
Johnston will be part of the NHL all-star game festivities as Ottawa hosts the annual event this weekend.