Is this Hockey?

I’m not sure what I’m really watching during these Stanley Cup finals. Is it hockey? Looks something like it, but has the dear old game always tabulated the stats on assault and battery as meticulously as it does now?

I take pleasure in knowing how many shots on net a player has managed, and certainly how many goals he has scored or assisted with. I am delighted to know statistically how well the goalies are doing. I cheer for them and groan for them. But am I supposed to cheer and be elated when some “enforcer” tries to disable, literally, a skilled opponent? Am I supposed to be impressed by the number of intentionally damaging “hits” a player has administered?

If so, I’m not. 

What has the game come to when a crippling “hit” that earns a penalty would have been deemed okay if it had happened one second earlier?

Is it just a coincidence that the term “hit” is a mafia word for murder?

Okay, okay. So I’m an old curmudgeon. But there were some rather odd personal circumstance that shaped my personal opinion of hockey. I explained them in a column some 23 years ago. It was trivia then and it’s trivia now but at least it’s a tiny bit of hockey history.

                                   Hockey Trivia

[….] First of all, my hockey credentials are tied to being Canadian — and to having weak ankles.

My ankles were so weak the skate blades were extraneous. When I was a kid, Dad had the local shoemaker craft some heavy leather ankle supports. These I’d lace on tight over my stockings, then slide the boots over them, and lace the boots tight.

All this tight lacing meant that when I hit the ice at the local pond my ankles didn’t quite fold up but the blood wouldn’t flow into my feet.

I can still remember the sheer terror of removing my skates at the end of a Saturday afternoon of scrub hockey and finding my toes all white. I’d whimper all the way home with the pain of thawing toes and from fear of losing them.

When my toes hadn’t fallen off by the following Saturday, I’d go back for more ankle ballet on the pond.

I can also remember the interesting experience of falling in the middle of a scrub game (hockey violence, no doubt) and hitting the back of my head. I threw up a few times on the way home and sat for a spell on the church steps trying to figure out where I was. I pleaded ‘flu when I got home so there’d be no crackdown on hockey privileges. It was only in later years I realized it had been concussion time and that I had probably re-arranged the contents of my skull for ever after. But that’s the national game for you.

There was an arena in the village but I can’t remember using it much. What I did owe to arena free skating was the ability to take corners only in a counter clockwise direction.

When I reached high school I discovered basketball and almost never wore skates again.

I describe all this by way of presenting my credentials for educating the Russians. You see, by the mid 1950s I was into a career as a writer of educational films and was detailed off to write (a better word is design) a series of short films for kids on “How To Play Hockey”. The hockey knowledge, of course, came from a technical advisor [Bill L’Heureux, from the athletic department of Western U. He was deeply involved in the development of the famous 5BX fitness programme for the RCAF.]

That little [hockey] series went into production and the second day of the shoot I was accosted early in the morning by the studio production manager. “The director,” he said, “just broke his leg. You’re now the location director.”

I agreed, on condition I could meet my fate wearing fleece lined snowboots without blades.

[For the record. The broken leg belonged to Phillip Wiegand. “Phip” was able to take care of post-production phase.]

It was 30 below zero, Fahrenheit, in Ottawa at that time and we were shooting with professional players, mostly on outdoor rinks. [The pros were not from the NHL but were veterans of the European hockey wars that attracted many Canadian players.] It was a major accomplishment to keep the delicate slow motion camera running but as far as I know it was the first time slow motion had shown in detail just how each individual player functioned. We also used a lot of stop action, appropriately called “freeze frame”. [It was the first time a slapshot was captured in slow motion. Bill L’Heureux could hardly believe his eyes. Robin Hood could have used the stick for a longbow.]

That little series went on to international acclaim. In Canada it was just for kids. But the Italians gave it a gold medal [at the Cortina Sports Film Festival] and the Russians had the gall actually to BUY prints and USE them! Years later, whenever Canada played Russia on TV I’d watch in consternation as the Russians would execute power plays so “by the book” I could have sworn they’d been our actors. And I’d almost weep with frustration as time and again it would appear the Canadians had only seen gangster movies.

I’m happy this season, though. The Canadians have really been getting their act together. They must have been watching Russian films.

I can’t think of any moral to this bit of trivia, except to remind the young fry out there (with their warm arenas, clip-on blades and rigid high tech boots) — we also served who only stood and froze.

Checkers, anyone?

So what’s my point? Only this. That little film series was all about the skills  —  skating, stick handling, shooting, checking, goal tending, offensive and defensive team play, etc. – but I have no recollection of intentionally brutal “hits” being included among those required skills.  Perhaps I’m wrong.  Perhaps it’s just that today’s attempted assassinations on the arena ice are more transparent —  just as in today’s politics  governments now cheat, lie, and disrespect parliament right out in the open.

For the record: In my opinion, to enjoy consistently excellent hockey one has to watch the Canadian and American women’s teams.

   ♣  Item: Hockey Trivia.
From: Down Paradox Lane
Lindsay This Week, January 12, 1988
Copyright © Munroe Scott

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About Munroe Scott

Munroe Scott is a veteran of the freelance writing world.
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