Wednesday, 13 January 2010

It's All About Hockey

Growing up as a kid in and around Melbourne, whenever anybody asked which team you follow (in Australia the question would be “who do you barrack for?”) you knew exactly what they were asking. It wasn’t about which basketball team you supported, or which Rugby League team you liked. It was about football – Australian Rules Football. To many people it was – and to some still is – the only sport worth caring about.

It’s a little bit the same here in Canada, except instead of football, its all about Hockey.

I am of course, talking about Ice Hockey, as it is known everywhere else in the world, not field hockey which is more popular in Australia and the non iced over parts of Europe.

Don’t get caught calling it ice hockey in Canada though. You’ll just end up looking foolish. They cant get their heads around the fact that anyone would ever play field hockey – that’s a girls game isn’t it?

Coming to Canada, I knew I would have to embrace hockey. I’d only ever been to one hockey game before – a second tier game in Olomouc in the Czech Republic, and while it was a fun night, it didn’t exactly hook me in.

Within days of arriving in Canada, I would realise that I would have no choice but to enjoy this game. Like Aussie Rules footy in Melbourne, if you’re not watching the hockey, you’re kind of left out. Your team plays every couple of days, and everyone meets up at the pub to cheer on their local team. This is something I could learn to love. Hockey you say?

While I do love watching the games at the pub, nothing does it for me like seeing the game live, so I bought a couple of tickets and went along to watch the Montreal Canadiens host the New York Islanders.

Ok, I’m hooked.

The game is awesome. I was a little worried about being able to even see the puck on the ice, but that wasn’t a worry at all. What I loved about the game more than anything was that, unlike all other major North American Sports (American Football, Baseball, and NBA Basketball) the action is virtually non stop. Its fast paced end to end action with virtually no let up, and with our game going to overtime – with the home team Montreal winning in sudden death – the crowd was amazing.

Me & a Buddy at the Canadiens game

The Montreal fans are known for being some of the most passionate in the NHL, and its any wonder considering they have won the league a record 24 times. It really is the only show in town, and sports wise it’s the only thing of interest to anyone. Montreal actually won the Canadian Football League this season, and yet I didn’t meet one person in Montreal who would choose a football game over a hockey game. The game on ice wins every time.

It’s not only Montreal that loves hockey though, it’s a nation wide obsession. There are six Canadian teams in the NHL, however there used to be more, which is something of a sore point to the people of Winnipeg and Quebec City.

Everyone here can skate. Even those that say they cant, can. They’re just used to comparing themselves to the rest of Canada. Kids grow up wanting to be hockey players and as a result they’re one of the best teams in the world.

With the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics fast approaching – just one month away now – all of Canada is hoping their mens and womens hockey teams can take home the gold. The womens team is virtually assured a spot in the final against the USA who are obviously the number one rival. The men will have a more difficult assignment, with the depth of talent in the world much higher, and teams from Europe providing tough opposition along with the Americans.

The big game in the group stage will of course be the US against Canada on February 21st.  While other teams, such as world powerhouse Russia will come into it when the medals are handed out, the game against the USA is the one that all Canadiens want to win.

It's sometimes easy to forget that the Winter Olympics provide a chance for some of the minor winter sports of the world – such as curling – to have their moment in the spotlight, because everyone knows that in Canada, its all about the hockey.

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