So how’s this for the requisite qualifications? I grew up a baby boomer in Detroit. From the age of about seven onward, we played hockey every day we could from November to June. We played in the icy streets after school in boots, until dark, back when salt wasn’t yet used to clear Detroit sidestreets. We went back out and played under the streetlight after dinner. We skated outdoors when somebody flooded our local parks. We played ball hockey in the spring after the snow melted. My brother constructed a terrific hockey rink in our backyard. We played recreation league hockey at Farwell Field for three years; I bussed on Saturdays to Gallagher Park near Jefferson in 1961 and played a season there. We played on weekends at Belle Isle whenever any parent would drive us there. We followed the Red Wings religiously starting in the early ’50s and Gordie Howe remains our god. We played spring hockey for two seasons at Gordie Howe Hockeyland in St. Clair Shores in the mid ’60s. I coached a team of kids when I was in college. As a young adult and local press member I was fortunate enough to play on a local media team that for three years regularly played and practiced against Howe, Ted Lindsay, and other former Red Wings stars.
What IS it about hockey that makes it such a conversational hot-button topic?
In arguing other sports, how often do you hear somebody say “Well, obviously you don’t understand football”? … similarly, have you had someone accuse you of not having an insider’s — a participant’s — knowledge of the game of baseball? (As in “how much baseball did you ever play???”) Not too often, right? Yet in discussing hockey, which is usually the same as arguing hockey, one is so often challenged as to life credentials, and what should be simple and practical debates degenerate into accusations about who REALLY understands the game and is qualified to argue it intelligently.
You hear it on the dumbass radio talk shows all the time. Callers routinely and defensively feel they have to cite their own hockey experience — “I played the game for 12 years and coached my son’s team for four” or “I’ve followed the Red Wings for 24 years and had season’s tickets in 1996” — before daring to offer a nervous opinion about Jimmy Howard’s glove hand or claim a decline in the recent play of Nik Lidstrom.
Hockey conversationalists get SO self-conscious about their opinions, and so often are challenged as to their credentials when remarking about the simplest aspects of the sport. The game seems at least as easily understandable as the other major sports. My theory is that Canadians have developed a paternalistic and defensive attitude about “their game” … often lashing out at a world that has pretty much commandeered hockey in recent decades. And that anger, and possessive impulse, works its way into so many of our contemporary opinions and observations. Canadian chauvinism and paranoia about hockey has put so many of us on the defensive — without really knowing why — as to just who IS truly qualified to discuss, defend, play, understand, enjoy their national sport. Many up north refuse to believe Americans, for example, could really grasp the finer attributes of the game, much less play it at a Canadian level.
Thus have Canadians — since their total domination of the NHL through the 1960s — seethed at the amazing and surprising play of the Russians in the ’70s, our Swedes here in Detroit in the decade past, ‘foreign’ gold medal victories in the winter Olympics, even the gall of one American city to label itself Hockeytown.
And Canadian annoyance, and challenging of those advances, has trickled down through the hockey world … all the way to the level of barroom opinionists or radio call-in dopes who feel they have to apologize for a requisite half minute and list their personal hockey resumes before tentatively daring to comment on the game.
So…..now…..if it’s okay with you … and there are no objections … can we debate the origins of the slap shot?