Monday, April 01, 2013

Canada and it's Hockey Obsession

Ice hockey is everywhere in Canada, it's on their $5 bill and everyone from newborns to their grandparents enjoy going to matches. In fact they find it bizarre that I have to specify 'hockey' as ice hockey or field hockey.

I think I know the Canadian anthem
better than the UK's now...
 The National Hockey League is like the Champions League of North American ice hockey with professional teams from the US and Canada. However to get a ticket to these games is expensive - unless you want to be so far away that you can't actually see what the players are chasing. So instead I went to the next level down which is the provincial league, so for us the Ontario Hockey League (the SPL perhaps). Guelph's local team is Guelph Storm and their mascot is Spike - which if you can tell what Spike actually is then you are doing better than me. Guelph Storm were actually meant to be pretty terrible this season but they've shocked everyone by actually reaching the play-offs. On a side note - we started to wonder why hockey players all have long hair and beards as it isn't the most logical haircut for such a sweaty sport. Well hockey players are very superstitious with their hair and beards and they grow them out until they are knocked out of the league/cup.

Typically Guelph
Canadians are renown to be incredibly nice and polite people and this is because all their sports involve a large component of beating each other up, so they can take out any anger or stress out on the field rather than the streets. There are some rules in hockey regarding contact, for example you can't hit another player with your stick but when it comes to ramming them up against the wall at a high speed using all your 200lbs body weight then that's fair game. Anything that the referees deem as foul play though requires time in the penalty box to calm down. Now I know what you think, penalty box; that's a good thing though? Well no, in ice hockey and lacrosse the penalty box is the sin-bin zone.The sticks are massive and 'L' shaped so when I tried one I found it so difficult to do anything - and that was off the ice! Each team has six players on at a time and they are all meant to have positions but other than the goalie it's quite hard to keep track due to the speed they fly at!

Kids come on at half time, all in Tim Hortons shirts
 Hockey players generally start playing when they are about 5 years old and before long being on the ice will be as normal as walking. Once these young kids get older they have to decide whether to make their hobby a lifestyle and join junior teams which are the rungs of the ladder to the NHL. This is bittersweet for the parents as hockey kits cost a lot of money but they could easily make this back if their kid gets the $2millon average NHL salary. Tim Horton's coffee chain actually helps children from poorer backgrounds get into hockey by opening several multi-million dollar sports camps across the country.

Hockey is very fast paced and thrilling and I can understand why the country is obsessed with it. There isn't the stigma that football has back home of violence and 'lad culture', it is a full-family activity and the supporters of the different teams don't even have to be separated. I am hooked and have attended several matches here and I am already getting excited for the Winter Olympics next year. In the meantime Dundee Stars have a new fan!

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