There are rumblings about the all too frequent headlines that threaten to bury a game we all know and love. There are dark figures who conspire to undermine the inherent beauty of the fastest and most skilled of the team sports.
They’ve had their day.
Now it’s time to heed the people who play hockey for the fun of it and the fans who marvel at its intoxicating drama before we lose them for good.
We who love hockey must side with forces that would mobilize to see to it that no more players suffer the fate of Don Sanderson.
His was a senseless death, the result of an unnecessary fight during the course of a pastime we as Canadians all treasure.
This past week while taking part at a symposium on hockey violence in London, Ont., I was shocked at some of the stories I heard. Not only with regard to fighting and the pressure that is put upon players to engage in fisticuffs at extremely young ages – but also the tales of abuse afforded developing players and officials.
One woman talked of a nine-year-old boy who was verbally derided by his coach for not being more belligerent on the ice. Respected referees at both the minor and professional levels lamented the fact that fewer talented people are entering that line of work. The reason being, they fear they can’t safely control many situations that arise on the ice.
There was also a revered hockey mentor in the London area who revealed that he made a decision to coach women’s hockey because he can’t fathom the constant pressure of violence in the men’s game.
It became apparent there was unanimous outrage that a player could die as a result of something that occurred on the ice – as Don Sanderson of the Whitby Dunlops had. There was also a general consensus that the role models have to better. I took it to mean the NHL and its players – the great gods of hockey – should feel the need to clean up their collective act.
You know, all of this comes in the wake of Hockey Day in Canada and our annual celebration of all that is attractive about the frozen game. I had the good fortune to be stationed in Windsor, Ont., and reported on the proceedings of the National Street Hockey Championships.
We called it road hockey in my day and it was ubiquitous in Canada. It involved the magic of play where you politely moved the nets for oncoming cars and chose up sides based on fairness. There was a yellow tennis ball, a friendly curb and your mum generally called you in for supper – although you got in a few more goals in spite of her urgings.
As Scott Hill the founder and organizer of the national championships told me in Windsor, “…it is a game of the imagination.”
“Road hockey is where kids dream of being in the NHL and where adults feel they can be kids again.”
I thought there and then that he was talking about the game of hockey that I used to know. We are not a nation of hooligans and it seems to me that it’s time to change the culture of our game. We need to make it more Canadian again and realize that we are a people who believe in hard work, resilience and respect for others.
Hockey is a reflection of us. Let’s make sure we actually like what we see in the mirror of our ice.
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