Deconstructing the Jersey Toss

"The medium is the message." (1964)

“The medium is the message.” (1964)

The jersey of any sports team, professional or not, holds a history, a story, and many different meanings. The message that resonates with any sports jersey is different depending on who is involved in the communication process. To some, the jersey simply designates who plays on what team. For others, a jersey holds significant, personal meaning which can be immersed in a narrative to build and share.

During two embarrassing losses on home ice this past season, two Edmonton Oilers jerseys were tossed by fans on to the ice. Both were acts of frustration and disapproval towards the club and their miserable performance. Many understood why the fans threw the jersey, while others, including Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens, questioned why the jersey was used as the medium to send a message.

“I’m from (Edmonton). You’re not just disrespecting guys in the room you’re disrespecting guys who wore the jersey before us … Messier, Gretzky, they all take pride in wearing that jersey. You’re a fan, you get to say and do whatever you want, call me whatever name you want, but when it comes to that logo, that’s a sacred thing for us. It’s disheartening for me to see our fans treat it that way.” (

The crumpled jersey on the ice for all to see was significant because it was an extreme response to a poor performance. It brought to light the narratives, history and meaning we each have as fans of the team. And, aside from the disrespect to the past players as Scrivens pointed out, the toss of the jersey also challenged and disrupted the traditional communication channels sports fans have established with their team. Read more of this post

Drop-In Ball Hockey at the YMCA: An Ethnographic Study

“It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A” goes the refrain of the famous Village People disco song. As someone studying sport policy, I decided to see if it’s true.

What is the experience of a new visitor to a Toronto-area YMCA drop-in ball hockey program? Some students at an English language centre where I occasionally teach have memberships at this particular YMCA location, which allows them to participate in drop-in ball hockey alongside other fitness programs. None of them (to my knowledge) has tried this sport, though some have considered participating especially after being “inspired” from watching hockey during the recent Winter Olympics.

I have played ball hockey extensively at various different settings. Some friends at one location would affectionately call me “Captain” because I would be the most outspoken in terms of enforcing fair play. To be honest, my understanding of “sportsmanlike conduct” was inspired by years of watching Don Cherry in his Coach’s Corner segment every Saturday night: “humble” but “vicious competitors” that exemplify the spirit of being “good ol’ Canadian boys” (Allain, 2011). Other times, particularly when I play drop-in hockey with complete strangers as a younger, smaller, and less-skilled participant, I want to blend in as seamlessly as possible without questioning the “old boy’s club” culture of playing hard and leaving non-hockey topics out of the conversation.

Read more of this post

Signal Boost: Barb Underhill, the woman who teaches the NHL how to skate

development camp-4_slide

Underhill working with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Photo from Tampa Bay Lightning.

** Cross posted on The Rabbit Hole.

The Pacific Standard recently wrote an article about NHL skating coach and consultant Barb Underhill.  I have been a hockey fan since I was six and I had never heard about this woman before.  After reading the article and watching a couple of YouTube clips I am inspired and want nothing more than for her to  add me to her list of pupils.  I don’t know how the world of sports has managed to keep Underhill such a well kept secret (perhaps its because NHL hockey remains a marginal sport in the US market?) but I think that proponents of women’s equality in sports should have her face plastered on every piece of marketing material possible!

Underhill, 51, is a former Canadian competitive pairs figure skater who skated in two Olympic Games and in 2009 was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.  After her competitive career ended she moved into television commentating but for the last eight years she has been back on the ice where she belongs teaching the best of the best how to be…even better!  While not a hockey player herself she has been surrounded by the game and really, it doesn’t matter whether or not she knows hockey because she knows skating.  As Underhill points out, figure skaters take private lessons for pretty much their entire skating careers but hockey is predominantly learned in a group setting and skating, oddly enough, skating is kind of learned incidentally.  So if you have done like I have and walked by the figure skaters practicing with your hockey bag on your shoulder shooting the toe picks a snide grin of superiority maybe next time it should be an inviting grin that will hopefully turn into a new friend and free skating coach! Read more of this post

Weekly Links: NHL in Las Vegas, Former OHL Player Speaks Out, Hockey in the Himalayas, and more

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers. Please check out some of the great writing that is happening in the hockey media and blogosphere!

  • Las Vegas joins Seattle and Quebec City has potential expansion cities. Although this would balance out the divisional alignment, Adam Proteau argues hockey in the NHL would be a risky venture. [The Hockey News]
  • Former OHL player Gregg Sutch, and former  teammate of Terry Trafford, provides some insight into the challenges faced by junior players. Sutch urges players to expand their personal interests outside of hockey and to seek help when needed.

Players, if there’s one thing I want you to all take away from this it’s to change the way you view yourself, and for the way everyone else views you. Don’t let hockey define you, let hockey be the game you love to play. Let hockey be your enjoyment and your getaway. [Buzzing the Net]

  • The Hockey in the Himalayas Project recently delivered hockey equipment to a youth group in India interested in playing the game. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • Avi Goldberg looks at what the new Hockey Night in Canada might look like starting next season as Roger’s Communications takes control of it. George Stroumboulopoulos, who will take over Ron Maclean’s role as host, commented that he’ll be more of a fan than a journalist, which Goldberg suggests might alter how the show is produced and perceived. [The Barnstormer]
  • The San Jose Sharks signed a 17-year old to a one day contract. Sam Tageson, who lives with a serious heart condition, had the opportunity to practice with the club and take part in the pre-game skate. [National Post]

  • As the NCAA hockey season comes to a close, more and more players will be signing professional contracts with NHL clubs. Andy Johnson provides some insight into how the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement impacts college players and their eligibility for NHL deals. [Bucky's 5th Quarter]
  • The CIS University Cup is underway in Saskatoon. You can catch all the games online at the CIS website.
  • Craig Custance writes about the continued growth of hockey analytics and how teams are evolving to capture useful information. [ESPN]
  • Sean Mcindoe provides an excellent overview of on-ice percentages, one of the key areas within hockey analytics. [Grantland]
  • Friendly reminder that the University of Alberta is hosting a public lecture on hockey analytics on Wednesday March 26th at noon (MDT). This session will be available on Livestream. [University of Alberta - Communications & Technology]

Playing Like Girls

During the brief lull in Sochi between the Canadian women’s national hockey team’s prodigious comeback to claim their fourth consecutive Olympic Gold medal, and the men’s national team winning their second, Gary Clement’s comic from the 2006 Olympics was re-shared among a number of online communities; a meme that went viral throughout Canada. The comic was created after the women’s team won their second Gold in Turin, where the men’s team finished out of the medals.Image

The image is intended as a celebration of the women’s team’s achievements, but the joke is based on an inversion and transference of the traditional, patriarchal discourses on femininity to the men’s team, who played poorly. The men are supposed to play more like the women, who are playing more like men. In this sense it feels like a reinforcement of one of an old and insidious forms of gender-bias. With this in mind the image does a disservice to the women’s team, who have not only set an impeccable standard for team dominance in Olympic competition, but who have done so through their own passion, will and sacrifice.

1998 marked the first Olympic tournament where NHL players were allowed into the competition, and provided Canada the opportunity to construct our own version of the ‘Dream Team’ for each tournament since. The men’s teams have been very successful, but not nearly as dominating as the women’s program.

This is meaningful for far more than the medal count.

Read more of this post

Free Public Lecture on Hockey Analytics at the University of Alberta

hemsky-ales-101117Happy to announce that I’ll be speaking at a public lecture on hockey analytics later this month. It will take place at the University of Alberta, hosted by the Communications & Technology Graduate Program.

I’ll be sharing some of the research I did as a graduate student at the U of A. My main focus was online hockey fans and their usage of blogs to develop information and knowledge. Michael Parkatti, one of the top hockey analytics guys around, will be providing an overview of hockey analytics and the work he has done on his blog.

More details about the event can be found at the U of A website.

       Hockey Analytics: The new wave of information and the online fan community that is driving the field

       Speakers: Sunil Agnihotri, MA (University of Alberta) and Michael Parkatti, MSc (London School of Economics)

       Wednesday March 26th, 2014

       12:00 – 1:00pm (MDT)

       2-958 Enterprise Square (10230 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta)

       This presentation will also be available on Livestream

If you have any questions about the event, leave a comment or email me at


Weekly Links: Slow adoption of hockey analytics, University of Ottawa hockey team suspended, Olympian Shannon Szabados practices with the Oilers


Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers. Please check out some of the great writing that is happening in the hockey media and blogosphere!

  • Hockey was featured this past week at the 2014 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, with a panel that included Brian Burke and Eric Tulsky of Broad Street Hockey. Unfortunately, due to the traditionalist mentality of NHL executives such as Burke, there continues to be resistance against the adoption of hockey analytics. [Boston Globe]
  • The University of Ottawa has suspended its hockey program for the duration of the year as police investigate a sexual assault involving the team. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • A hockey fan provides an excellent summary of their experience watching a KHL game in Slovakia. [Pension Plan Puppets]
  • Effective next season, parents of minor hockey players in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association will be required to take an online awareness course aimed at reducing bullying, abuse and harassment as part of the registration process. [Windsor Star]
  • An excellent interview of Cpl. Dominic Larocque, the captain of Canada’s national sledge hockey team. []
  • Shannon Szabados, goaltender of the Canadian women’s national  team that won gold in Sochi, was invited to practice with the Edmonton Oilers. [National Post]
  • Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto has expanded their research on the brain health  of retired hockey players to include former University players as well. [CTV News]
  • A 180 year old hockey stick is up for auction this week. Researches have been able to determine the approximate age and the original owner of the hockey stick. [Yahoo!]

Weekly Links: NHL expansion to Seattle; Continuation of women’s hockey in the Olympics; Sportsnet and CHL extend broadcast agreement


Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers. Please check out some of the great writing that is happening in the hockey media and blogosphere!

Congratulations to the Canadian Women’s hockey team on winning the gold medal in Sochi!

  • John Barr reports on the rumours of NHL expansion to Seattle. [Sonics Rising]
  • A great comprehensive post arguing for the continuation of women’s hockey on the Olympics program, a topic that was also addressed last week in this blog’s Olympics Roundtable. [Japer's Rink]
  • On the topic of women’s hockey, Finland’s star Olympic goalie Noora Räty is retiring from women’s hockey at the age of 24, citing the lack of competitive leagues in which to play. What does Räty’s decision say about the state of women’s hockey? [The Pink Puck]
  • Latvian netminder Kristers Gudlevskis put on a remarkable performance against the Canadians in the quarter finals. James Mirtle provides some details about the netminder and his difficult path to professional hockey. [Globe and Mail]
  • TJ Oshie gained significant attention for his shootout performance against the Russians early in the tournament. Sam Laird looks into how it all played out on social media. [Mashable]

Read more of this post

Olympic Dissonance

Games Against a Messy Background


Sport lends itself to a condition of moral simplicity. A major reason we turn to sport is for the undeniable certainty of its win/loss, rule-bound dynamic. At no time does sport’s artificial certainty stand out more than it does at the Olympics, because at no other time does it clash more with the deviousness of the world at large. Like the World Cup, the Olympics produces the same tension each time: between the simplified morality of sport itself and the problematic morality of the forces that control sport, or of the nations represented.

Putin’s games provide a case in point of that. Read more of this post

Tensions: The Changing Demographics of Hockey


Harnarayan Singh. Screen capture from the Calgary Flames.

At the end of January the Calgary Flames became the first Canadian team to offer commentary in a language other than English or French.  Flames TV Punjabi will be hosted by none other than Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) – Punjabi Edition’s Harnarayan Singh.  Punjabi is the third most spoken language in Canada and, despite the large Punjabi populations in Vancouver and Toronto, Calgary is the first to capitalize on this growing hockey crazed demographic.  Singh explains that the broadcasts facilitate inter-generational love of the game enabling immigrant Punjabi grandparents to watch the games with their grandchildren.  Many kudos have been passed around for this move by the Calgary Flames, which will hopefully encourage more teams to join suit – and rumour has it that the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking into a similar broadcast opportunity. Read more of this post