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.

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Weekly Links: Terry Trafford’s death raises questions about mental health responses; Shannon Szabados debuts in men’s hockey league; Rogers unveils details about its NHL coverage for 2014-15; and more

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!

  • Sad news this week, as OHL player Terry Trafford took his own life after being sent home by the management of the Saginaw Spirit. Neate Sager has an excellent post calling for the league to develop a more comprehensive and effective strategy for dealing with its players mental health struggles. [Buzzing the Net]
  • In light of Rich Peverley’s scary collapse on the Dallas Stars bench during a game, Bruce Arthur weighs in on the expectations of toughness for hockey players. A good read. [National Post]
  • Melissa Geschwind has an excellent post titled ” The institutional sexism of NHL Ice Girls.” I suggest you give it a read. [Puck Daddy]
  • In more positive news for gender equity, Shannon Szabados – the goaltender for Canada’s gold medal women’s hockey team in Sochi – is now playing professionally for the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League. Adam Proteau and Karen Crouse have excellent profiles of Szabados. [The Hockey News; New York Times]
  • Hockey in Society contributor E. Martin Nolan writes about being a Detroit Red Wings fan in the absence of retired star Nicklas Lidstrom. [The Barnstormer]
  • An excellent critique of the funding of the Red Wings’ new arena, which will bring yet another new sport stadium built largely with public funds to the bankrupt city. [Deadspin]

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Olympic Dissonance

Games Against a Messy Background

from thestar.com

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

Weekly Links: Rogers secures NHL broadcasting rights; Former NHL players file lawsuit against the NHL; Referee abuse; Varlamov officially charged; and more


Source: CBC Sports

Source: CBC Sports

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!

  • Rogers Communications signed a 12 year, $5.2 billion agreement with the NHL for the league’s broadcasting and multimedia rights. Hockey Night in Canada will still be available, but CBC will lose significant control over the content that airs. [National Post]
  • Jonathan Willis examines what the new deal between Rogers and the NHL means for Don Cherry. [Cult of Hockey]
  • More details about the agreement and what it means for Sportsnet and TSN can be found here: [A Rouge Point]
  • Sean Fitz-Gerald looks into what the new broadcast deal means for league expansion into Quebec City. [National Post]
  • What does the new NHL TV deal mean for the viewers? Robert Macleod looks into how the deal will impact cable costs in different Canadian markets. [Globe and Mail]
  • Ten former NHL players filed a lawsuit against the NHL, claiming the league did not do enough to protect players from concussions. Included in the ten are Rick Vaive and Gary Leeman. There are reports that 200 more former NHL players have also joined the lawsuit. [Globe and Mail]
  • Sean McIndoe provides an excellent summary of the concussion lawsuit against the NHL. [Grantland]
  • TSN legal correspondent Eric Macramalla provides some in-depth analysis of the case, including what sort of evidence the players will need to provide. [TSN]
  • Former NHL player Brian Sutherby, who continues to live with post-concussion syndrome, gives some insight into his experience with head injuries and the lawsuit filed against the NHL. [OilersNation]
  • A 14-year old boy from Quebec is suing Hockey Canada and other minor leagues for a concussion he sustained in a pee-wee hockey game in 2010. [CBC]
  • Greg Wyshynski reports that the abuse of officials (referees and linesmen) in minor hockey, often cases in which parents or coaches are berating teenagers, is driving young people away from the job. It remains to be seen whether leagues will take steps to protect their young officials and retain their participation in this role. [Puck Daddy]
  • Colorado Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov has been charged with third-degree assault by the Denver District Attorney. Varlamov was arrested in October after his girlfriend filed a complaint with the police. [SB Nation]
  • Eric T. responds to some of the criticism hockey analytics has received from around the NHL. Included are some useful links to better understand the role of data analytics in hockey. [Broadstreet Hockey]
  • An interesting interview by Dave Cunning with Jonathan Cheechoo, a former NHL superstar with the San Jose Sharks who is now playing for Medvescak Zagreb in the KHL. [Backhand Shelf]
  • New Jersey Devils forward Jaromir Jagr continues to set NHL records at the age of 41. Here’s hoping he musters up a few more years. [Mayor’s Manor]

Weekly Links: High cost of minor hockey hindering participation; 2013 Hockey Hall of Fame inductions; World Cup of Hockey or Olympics participation for NHL players?

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!

  • A really interesting article from James Mirtle that looks at the how the high cost of hockey participation is increasingly excluding children from middle class backgrounds from participating [Globe and Mail]
  • Three minor hockey coaches in Nova Scotia have been suspended for allegedly using bounties to encourage players to throw large hits during games, as well as for verbally abusive behaviour. [CBC News]
  • Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis weighed in on the ongoing discussion about the role of analytics (AKA advanced stats) in hockey, expressing skepticism at their value but remaining open to using them. [Globe and Mail]
  • Chris Johnston reports that, despite ongoing debates around headshots and concussions, the NHL is making strides in more cautiously treating head injuries. [Sportsnet]

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‘The Code': A powerful mechanism of control or just plain laziness?


Photo from MileHighHockey.com

I just finished playing an extremely dirty recreational playoff game.  It was the kind of game that makes me dislike hockey.  The hockey I play is as recreational as recreational gets. No one is going to get a college scholarship. No one will play for the Olympics. No one is even going to make a provincial team.   Now, I get it.  Teams who don’t have speed have to hack and slash to survive.  My team on the other hand is built upon a ‘first to the puck’ mentality.  We have no one on our roster good enough to dominate a game; therefore, as it should be, we win and lose as a team.  This particular team we played tonight we also played a week ago in the final game of the regular season; we won 8-2.  We just so happened to draw them for the first two games of the playoffs.  Our team expected a hacky game but what we ended up participating in was absolute lawlessness and a perfect example of why The Code doesn’t work.

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The KHL as Cartel Buster? Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kontinental Hockey League, and the Challenge to the NHL’s Control of Labour Conditions

The (North American) hockey world was shocked yesterday to learn that superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk was retiring from the National Hockey League and, according to subsequent reports, planning to sign with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. Today, it was announced that he has signed with the KHL club for four years. Kovalchuk’s decision is of interest to hockey fans for numerous reasons, including obviously fans of his now-former NHL team the New Jersey Devils, SKA St. Petersburg, and the KHL. However, it is also a fascinating development in the labour rights of hockey players – particularly concerning the binding nature of contracts and the right to labour mobility.

This post examines Kovalchuk’s NHL career and retirement, explores notable criticisms of the player’s actions by Don Cherry and Jeremy Roenick, and finally discusses whether the competition between the KHL and NHL poses a threat to the NHL’s ability to control the labour conditions of its athletes.

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Review: “Hockey: A People’s History” (2006)

In 2006, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired a 10-part series entitled Hockey: A People’s History (HAPH). Adopting the approach used in its popular 2000 miniseries Canada: A People’s History, the CBC focused in this series on the experience of Canadians with the sport of hockey for over a century. Beginning with early ball and stick games played in various societies over human history, the documentary quickly moves on to introducing European ball and stick games played on ice and First Nations baggataway (the forerunner to what became institutionalized as the sport of lacrosse) as the predecessors to modern hockey. After this very brief homage to hockey-like folk games, the documentary discusses the early organization of ice hockey by amateur athlete in Montreal and proceeds from there to focus entirely on the development of hockey in Canada over a roughly 125 year period.

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Playing the White Way: Whiteness and hockey

Nazem Kadri. Photo from OnIslam.net.

Don Cherry has stated outright that “Racism is not in the NHL. Of all the sports in the world, it’s the one that doesn’t have racism.”  Whether true or false his statement is worthy of examination.  If it is true then we have to figure out what it is about hockey that naturally eliminates racism.  Is it the coldness? If that were true then all winter sports would look like the General Assembly at the United Nations.  Is it the condoned fighting? No, that doesn’t seem right.  If Cherry’s statement is false then it his this denial of racism that is in need of critique.  Frankly, I wish that it were the former because then not only would hockey be the greatest game on earth it would also be the key to peace and harmonious international relations. Sadly, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter.

In 2009, the Globe and Mail (one of Canada’s national newspapers) published a lengthy article on Nazem Kadri titled, Nazem Kadri: Canada’s new game face.  In it we glimpse the Canadian dream – immigrants who move to Canada and their son makes it to the NHL.

The extended Kadri family – typically 60 aunts, uncles and cousins at each game – is scattered around the John Labatt Centre.  Sam’s [Nazem's father] own, elderly parents – his mother easily spotted in a white hijab among clumps of hockey jerseys – are across the ice, two rows up.

They don’t speak much English – Sam’s father refers to the penalty box as habis, Arabic for jail – but having arrived almost empty-handed 40 years ago from Lebanon, where they’d never heard of hockey, they understand the feat their grandson has achieved.  They don’t miss a game.

…He has a fairy-tale story that hockey, more than ever, wants to tell.  Nazem Kadri is not the first Muslim to be drafted into the National Hockey League – perhaps his most prominent predecessor was Montreal’s Ramzi Abid, a left-winger who played several seasons before heading to Europe in 2007.  But none has faced such expectations of stardom.

And why does the NHL want so badly to tell his story? Because as the article says, Kadri “comes at a time when both minor and professional hockey are intent on drawing ethnic communities into the game.”  Surely, this desire stems from an economic standpoint because the more people who play hockey the more money hockey makes, but also in a time where globalization is the norm having a sport that is overwhelmingly white speaks loudly about who has been welcomed into the game and who has not.  Hockey needs a Venus or Serena Williams or a Tiger Woods.  Someone that the NHL can point to and say – what racism?  It needs an alibi.  If non-Whites can not only make it to the pros but dominate a league you can essentially throw the racism card away, right? Read more of this post

Defending the Blue Line: Hockey and militarism as social responsibility?

During the pre-game interview with Zach Parise before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Parise mentioned that he is involved with an organization called Defending the Blue Line (DTBL).  The interview showed Parise hanging out with military men and their families while shooting some stuff.  This peaked my interest so I decided to look into DTBL further.

The mission of DTBL is

ensuring that children of military members are afforded every opportunity to participate in the game of hockey.  We accomplish this by providing free equipment for military kids, hockey camps, special events, and financial assistance for registration fees and other costs associated with hockey.

DTBL was created in 2009 by a group of Minnesota soldiers (the hockey state!).  It appears that Parise’s allegiance to the organization probably has something to do with the fact that his father is on the Board of Directors.  Other players who support DTBL include: Cal Clutterbuck, George Parros, Matt Henricks, Ryan Kesler and Sean Avery.  NHL teams listed as partners include: the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.  You may also be interested to know that the Derek Boogaard Memorial is a MVP Level sponsor/donor.

Sport is like war without the killing (hopefully), this notion is nothing new.  We see it when the fighter jets fly over before the start of the Indy 500.  We see it when athletes wear camouflage jerseys.  We hear it when commentators talk about athletes being warriors in the trenches.  As Mark Norman has outlined in a previous post it is important to dissect the significance of the link between sport and militarism, and for our purposes, hockey and militarism.  Dr. Samantha King, a professor of Cultural Studies at Queen’s University, has written about the synergy between sport and war with the specific example of the National Football League in a post-9/11 world.  King (2008) writes:

as professional leagues such as the NFL incorporate Bush administration policy into their business strategy with the aim on enhancing brand identification and capital accumulation, it appears that a system is emerging in which sport culture has moved beyond its customary role as an ideological support to the corporate state.  Therefore, although relationships between sport and the state are not new, there is an intensified depth and mutuality to the sport-war nexus in the present moment – a shift that might be understood as a further indication of the miltarization of everyday life, and, simultaneously, of the “sportification” of political life – in the contemporary United States. (p.528) Read more of this post