Tuesday, January 06, 2015


Bravo to the boys in red for capturing the championship crown at the World Junior Hockey championships, but one wonders if the intense focus and pride of the Canadian nation should be so feverishly reliant on the athletic prowess of kids barely twenty.

Canada lives and breathes and practically chokes on all things that are hockey, and I'll grant you that the Olympics, majestic as they are, historically so, are worthy of a bit (just a bit) of chest-thumping blather, but I'm a bit hesitant to get so caught up in a tournament that, at its best, should be viewed as a training ground for most of these kids who are still aiming to be pros.

One could scan American websites in vain for even a scant mention of the tournament, but the on-ice exploits of the young Canadian lads dominated the front page of almost every homegrown paper that's worth a faint click. Not to mention the endless updates and highlights on tsn.ca. I think things reached a ridiculous nadir when a recent segment on Max Domi (the son of former Maple Leaf thug and pug and all-around grand entertainer Tie Domi) focused for half of its length on why he had decided to stick out his tongue after every goal that he scored. (As Richard Moll as 'Bull the bailiff' on NIGHT COURT said so eloquently: "Oooooookay.")

Canadians don't often get to see themselves in heroic form on the screens we now so steadily stare at. Almost nobody watches Canadian films; Canadian dramas on TV have not historically been all that great; our comedy, it's good, but that's pretty much just a goofy version of ourselves. Our national literature paints a suitably complex and grim and humourous tint of our character, but reading's an individual act (and not many folks even read all that much anymore.) Canadians need something communal to observe in shiny digital form, an elevation of spirit that approaches the gods. Hockey gives us that. And if our aspirations to (humble) godhood require the benediction of teenage boys on black skates, so be it. We'll go where we can ascend.

It's nice, living abroad, to keep in touch with my home secondhand via the games that we play. I played house-league hockey (quite poorly) every year from age seven to fifteen; the first novel I ever tried to write was about a young hockey player who was also a talented novelist. (My infatuation with THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP was pretty plain to detect.) I like reading good writing about hockey. It's where I come from, if not where I am.

I wonder, though: Is all that flag-waving and chest-beating surrounding these games entirely healthy? Shouldn't these games be seen simply as an entertaining way for our teenage-talent to develop against the best of the other kids in the world? So much of our collective Canadian energy and ego is wrapped up every year at Christmas in these young players' exploits. That's a hell of a lot of pressure for those guys to deal with and defuse. Perhaps a nation's bravado would be better spent on something that drains less psychic energy from themselves and these kids.

Waving the Maple Leaf around an arena in Toronto or Montreal doesn't hurt anyone. We all love where we come from, and want to flaunt our triumphs. A little goofily flamboyant pride for one's country, and all that. Always a nice tug at the heartstrings. Yet you look at those Russian players who lost in the final, tears slipping out of their eyes, heads hung down in shame, as the Canadian spectators in the stands all around them cheered with great glee, and I feel for those Russkies. It's part of sport, this agony of defeat, and we all love a good game, and I understand that the players, both winners and losers, are building their confidence and physicality here for the professional and international exploits on ice to follow for the next good many years, but there's still, for me, something almost cruel about thousands of folks flag-waving and screaming because 'our' teenagers won, while 'their' adolescents mildly fucked up. Makes me think that patriotism is for adults, but when that same sentiment is so ferociously aimed at barely-out-of-high-school teenagers, it can quickly devolve into crass nationalism.

No comments: