Canada’s favorite sport is covered this week by Alexandra Giubelli,
and discusses how it has consistently been a way of life through the century.
by Alexandra Giubelli
Have you ever noticed that if you say to someone living in Montreal “Have you watched the game last night?” they will automatically know that you are talking about hockey? I tried that little experience in Boston the last time I was there and the answers I got were far different. “Oh, you mean the Celtics game? Or maybe the Red Sox ? It can’t be the Patriots, since their season is over…” Not quite the same wouldn’t you say?
There is a simple reason for this. Here in Montreal, hockey is not a sport: it’s a religion.
What is a religion? According to the dictionary, a religion is a set of beliefs involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. From that simple definition, I can probably proclaim Hockeyism a religion tomorrow.
Devotion? Yes. Hockey fans get more than enough of it as I even know some people who are willing to stay awake to watch the Canadiens game at 11 p.m. when they have a big exam the next day at 8 a.m. Others are ready to spend hundreds of dollars on season tickets even if they don’t have that money. Conversely, some will call sick to their job to travel with friends or family in another town to watch a game.Thousands of examples can be list here,if this isn’t devotion I don’t what it is.
Rituals? Yes again. Some hockey fans got those too. I know personally that I need to wear my jersey for the games, otherwise they will end up badly. Mostly useless, but we like to believe that it can make a little difference. For example, during the playoffs,many men don’t shave their beards, letting it grow to show their support, but many women frustrated by the fact that they couldn’t grow one, decided that instead they wouldn’t shave their legs.
Interesting… Players have rituals too as it goes to the simplest thing like listening to a specific song before each game to wearing the “magic socks” or not cutting your hair during a road trip like Wayne Gretzky used to do it. The sport in itself has rituals as teams retire numbers from their great players or even held ceremonies to honour one of them.
Hockey has some Gods, sometimes represented by the legends of the sport like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe or Guy Lafleur, but at other times they are some unknown spirits that fans love to complain against, blaming them for the loss or the aweful goal another team scored. They’re the ones who decided the destiny of a team. Gods got another and unique definition for the Boston Bruins as their fans in the upper part of the old Boston Garden were called “The Gallery Gods”. The old arena was so small that those who were sitting there were so close to the ice that they were part of the players and even intimidating the other teams.
But before all of this, Hockey was the religion of convenience during the long and cold winters. It was the way for our ancestors to distract themselves and get all together by , before the NHL was even created, play with brooms on a frozen pond with a patty as a puck. People at the time didn’t care about the big salary, they wanted to play because they loved the game like Maurice “the Rocket” Richard who played for $25,000 per year and had to have another job as a machinist.
“Hockey helps us express what we feel about Canada, and ourselves. It is a giant point of contact, in a place, in a time, where we need one we have — East and West, French and English, young and old, past and present. The winter, the land, the sound of children’s voices, a frozen river, a game — all are part of our collective imaginations. Hockey makes Canada feel more Canadian,” said Former Montreal Canadiens player and Hall of famer Ken Dryden in his book Home Game: Hockey and life in Canada. .
A true statement as on Jan. 30 we celebrated the first National Hockey day of Canada. Try to find another sport that has its own day. Also, the University of Montreal offers a class for their students called: “The religious overtones of Canadiens worship,” A course you won’t find anywhere else.The game has taken so much place in our lives that it got a direct effect on us, and this applies to any team you’re cheering for. If they win you feel happy, if they lose your colleagues notice it the next day. Most of it is due to the fact that it’s everywhere, in our television, on the radio, the internet, the newspaper, the rink next to your house… It has become a synonym of winter as you know that as soon as it’s cold enough, children are already on the frozen pond playing a game with their friends.
“When you say Montreal you think of hockey and all the legends. If, for example, I’m saying Dallas you would definitely think about everything else but Hockey,” Sarah Haidar, a second semester Cinema, Video and Communications student said.
Montreal is the ” Mecca of hockey,” Joe Thornton once said, and you can’t disagree when you see the importance Montrealers are giving to the sport.
“Hockey is my religion, the Canadiens are my god, so this [the old forum] then was my cathedral,” George Stroumboulopoulos, host of The Hour on CBC, recently said.
The belief of Canadians in their sport is so strong that at one point a running joke was going around during the 2004-2005 NHL lock-out, saying that the crowd would still be sold-out and that the fans would watch the Zamboni go around the empty rinks.
“I mean, hockey is not a sport in Canada. Everyone knows that. It’s a religion,” Brian Burke, General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, said.
This passion, sometimes call an obsession, is what makes the hockey fans from Montreal, and even in other provinces, special. They are the seventh player on the ice, they are there no matter what, ready to give their energy to their favourite team, whoever it is.
“If somebody makes a bad drop pass, 21,000 people boo. That’s not going to happen in Florida. People are very knowledgeable about the game.
They live it,” Mike Boone, a lifelong Montrealer and a Montreal Gazette columnist said.
It is what it is as Montreal lives, breathes and dies hockey, showing to everyone who wants to know that yes, we are proud of inventing the game and we love it, we know it and we are ready to support it. This is sometimes a bit extreme as we all remember two years ago when the Montreal Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, and fans set police cars on fire and smashed some shop windows to celebrate.
All religions have weaknesses…And hockey can certainly be considered one.
Because after all, temples are the arenas, followers are the Canadians of all backgrounds, the Gods are the hockey legends and the Holy Grail is the Stanley Cup. Everything is set, even the prayers.