Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I am not a hockey fan. But I'm Canadian.

That statement means something. As much as we may want to fight the cliche, hockey really is something that is part of the integral fabric of this country. And I'm not talking NHL here. I'm talking hockey.

You don't have to think very hard to come up with the names of people close to you, who are involved with hockey. I have a brother who plays hockey. I have a brother in law who plays hockey. I have nieces and nephews who play hockey. I have friends who's kids play hockey.

When I was travelling across rural Quebec we passed these tiny little towns, at night just a small collection of lights in the darkness but they all had two things in common: A church spire and a hockey arena. I won't speculate which structure was held the most holy.

I can remember when I lived in Kingston, when I was going to college, I had been late at the library, and I was on my way home passing through City Park. It was late and it was winter; it was cold that kind of cold that seems to change the timbre of sound. It was too late for the lights to be on in the small outdoor rink but I could hear it as I approached: The sound of steel on ice, that scrape that only a skate blade can make and the hiss of the wooden sticks, the breathing of the players. It was just two guys, the rest of the teams gone home but there was still something in them, some energy that needed to be dispersed. So they were skating in circles, sticks on the ice, no puck, no game, just centrifugal motion of their need to connect to the whole thing: Rink, ice, sticks, blades.

That's hockey.

So, I'm not a hockey fan but I grew up with it, I'm surrounded by it. I live in a city that wishes it had a big league hockey team .... yes, I live in Toronto.

I'll give you a moment.

Take your time.

OK, moving on.

So I have some familiarity with the NHL. I listen to sports radio when I'm driving around as background, they do cover baseball and the UFC, the two sports I watch from time to time. And they mention hockey .. just a little. So I know who some of the players are.

I know that violence and fighting in hockey is still as contentious as it ever was, perhaps more so. Especially concerning blows to the head, concussions, etc. A very real and a very serious concern. I follow this debate as a spectator a few times removed .. until today.

Today I found myself thrown first hand into the realities of hockey violence.

I wasn't in a rink, I wasn't on skates, and I wasn't holding a stick. I was in Costco's, I was wearing hikers and I was pushing a grocery cart. I was moving forward, in the neutral zone, about halfway between the entrance and the meat counter. Suddenly out of nowhere a player from the opposing team checked me into the boards ...

 OK, actually he just crashed into my cart. Good thing he didn't actually check me in the body because I'd likely have a new limp. Because the player in question was Darryl Sittler, former NHL player and former Toronto Maple Leaf. I'm not certain how old Mr Sittler is now but I pretty much experienced a biological eclipse ... dude is big.

I think it was a cheap shot. Should have been a whistle blown. I was about to pull jersey and go knuckles .. but I looked at that scarred visage and the hands the size of cooked hams and just said "Excuse me Mr Sittler."

Darryl just shrugged and smiled and said "Sorry"

Damn, when will the violence end!

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