Sports for Dummies: Hockey, Eh?

When it comes to music, my tastes are very strange. For instance, there is one Canadian band I really like called The Arrogant Worms. The Arrogant Worms sing a lot of funny, silly songs about being Canadian, including one that inspired this week’s column: “Me Like Hockey.”

This song parodies the stereotype of Canadians and hockey, painting a picture of men sitting around eating chips and drinking beer and praying for a fight to break out between the players. Obviously, it’s meant to be comical, but it also begs the question, why is hockey so fundamentally associated with Canada? Is this a mistaken point of view?

Through my research, I have found that hockey is actually just about as closely tied with Canada as we all think it is. It seems the sport did originate in Canada, but it’s difficult to be more specific. Halifax, Kingston and Windsor all lay claim to being the birthplace of hockey, according to the Canadian Museum of History.

Yet, one of the earlier references to hockey games taking place in a specific location was actually in Fort Franklin, the Northwest Territories. The place’s namesake Sir John Franklin wrote in his journal in October 1825 that his men were skating and playing hockey on the Great Bear Lake.

It wasn’t for another until 1875 that the first official game took place on an indoor rink in Montreal, Quebec. The modern rules were also created in Montreal.

After founding an amateur league in the 1880s, the sport exploded in popularity. Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston, The Governor General of Canada, which was still under direct British rule at the time, donated a trophy that would later be called the Stanley Cup for national hockey competitions. In the early 1900s, hockey had become so popular that nearly every city and town had its own team. And as radio broadcasting of sporting events took off in the 20s and 30s, hockey grew in Canada much like baseball grew in the United States.

So all this is fascinating, but why hockey? We’re not so far from Canada here in America. Why did we get such different sports?

For starters, canadians have more than two and a half times as many players in the NHL as Americans, making up 50 percent of the league, according to Paul Martin, a professor in Canada who teaches a class titled “Hockey and Canadian Culture.”

Hockey is ingrained in Canadian culture. The Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a hockey historian currently writing a book on the topic, according to Reuters. He hypothesizes that hockey is so integral to the Canadian way of life because the sport was developed by Canadians, and the sport developed them as well. There is a much more personal relationship with the sport than we see with most sports in the United States, with parents teaching it their children and a majority of youths being involved in hockey leagues as children.

I suspect that another factor contributing to why it’s hockey in Canada, not football, comes down to climate. Hockey is more popular in Minnesota than any other state in America, as anyone who’s seen the tear-jerker Disney movie Inside Out can attest. And we know Minnesota could be called Minnesnowta for its wintery weather. Canada is, of course, northern as well, which provides optimal conditions to develop this game on a frozen lake. Hockey couldn’t be created in a place where lakes don’t freeze.

In general, I prefer winter sports to most other sports. Perhaps this winter I’ll find the local hockey league and give the game a shot.