Passion Grew This Game of Hockey

edbread breadmanskiContributor IJanuary 30, 2009

Passion is a timeless spirit,  traveling to one place and then another all the while multiplying, rebirthing itself with each fresh stride, every rising shot ringing the post.

Lord Stanley of Preston experienced the passion. 

It called to him and the cup was born.  A challenge cup. 

An amateur prize conceived as reward to the top ranked club,  as determined by the acceptance of a challenge from another amateur-league champion.

The days of our youth were filled with long hours of hockey. Shinny on the pond, scraping of the outdoor rinks, scrambling on the road, chasing a tennis ball, shooting, scoring, and shouting out our team or our player. 

Understanding little of the folklore, the history of a game that had claimed our interest and lured us away from the idle days of marbles and tobogganing!

What we played for wasn’t tangible, joy is not an object, pride not something you can buy,  yet,  bragging rights were everything!  Best on the street, on the block, king of the playground—these were coveted titles!

Lord Stanley’s trophy,  the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, called to our thirst to be the best.  It fed our appetite to compete and we longed to respond, to drink from its bowl.  The awkwardness of youth giving way to the rush that is sport, desire luring hope.  Bold is the believe and our resolute not wavered in past defeat.

The party spilled into town as we arrived, wearing bragging rights like a comfortable sweater, sleeves rolled up ready to have at her, we drank from the bowl.  Our names engraved on its lip we could see them as we quenched that thirst!

Hockey has always been associated with just about every activity I've ever taken part. From fishing lake trout in the spring to hunting moose in the fall and Ice fishing during the winter, I've almost always managed to catch the game on Saturday night.

It's this security of exposure that I am sure cemented my allegiance to hockey as a spectator. I truly believe the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation directly responsible for keeping the NHL afloat in Canada with its comprehensive coverage and unrestricted access.

In Canada, the National Hockey League elevates a game that is as much our culture as baseball is to our American neighbors. From grass roots exposure to organized minor leagues hockey teaches young people life's lessons while offering an alternative to the pitfalls of idle hands that all to often afflict our young.

Much the same as baseball, football, or basketball, we have come to trust these sports as valid tools of education and encourage kids to participate, set goals and ultimately pattern expectations and life choices based on the disciplines acquired playing, living, and loving sports.

One may question the cultural validity of sport at the professional level given the exploits of some athletes. One may even argue the pro game of hockey itself projects questionable values not worthy of our reverence. Personally, I believe the game to be worthwhile and not beyond salvation. Friends who read my blog know me to be a friend of hockey yet a critic of the NHL, my intent not to condemn, but to exercise my franchise as a fan of professional sport.

While seeing sport to be inspirational, a poetic expression of life itself I must, in today's chaotic environment, temper my admiration with reservation. This reality has pushed me to the brink. I struggle daily with the merit of my involvement, feeling somehow complicit and responsible. Professional sport should hear our voice, the voice of the fan, because as the fan goes so does the sport.

Please do not misunderstand, I have been and continue to be a fan of the NHL. The game of hockey at the professional level is unrivaled for its entertainment value, offering explosive energy and the fittest group of athletes in the world.

Although I've heard it said the game is too quick and hard to follow, once experienced live, one cannot deny the emotional ride the fan is privy to as the teams fight for momentum and ultimately the win.

And the playoff format, no other sport can touch it! Grueling and extensive it delivers like no other can. Man, I can't wait! If I were granted a wish for the NHL it would be for an American network television station to come on board and provide free air broadcasts of NHL games across the United States.

This was the premise of expansion to begin with—and although it has not yet happened, I for one hold out hope that the American viewing audience increases and the current fan base is afforded the security of exposure I have been blessed with.

The past weekend marked the presentation of the 58th NHL All Star Game. The best of the best were highlighted in this annual event designed to expose our game to the masses. To the laypersons of sport please accept an invitation to explore what I've been talking about and take the next game in.

Now, you die hards that have an inclination to complain about the format, the lack of intensity or physical play? Stop! Please stop and consider the intent of this game, sit back and enjoy with the rest of us.

On the Christmas that fell just a week before his third birthday, Bobby Hull, one of 11 children of a cement plant worker in Pointe Anne, Ontario, got his first pair of skates and set out immediately for the nearest ice. "As young Bobby toddled out the door,"  Jim Hunt wrote years later in an authorized biography," his mother said: 'Remember now, no crying or the skates go back to Santa Claus." 

Hunt went on:

Young Bobby just grinned, and supported by two older sisters, he went across the road to the bay of Quinte, fifty yards from the front door of their home. His mother needn't have worried, Mrs. Hull said.  "I looked out the window a couple of hours later and I could hardly believe it, here was this little gaffer skating by himself.  He fell down often but He would always get up, brush off the snow and keep on skating. It was almost dark when I finally called him in for his Christmas dinner and by this time he could skate by himself without any help from his sisters."

Passion grew this game.