Hockey Research at the 2014 “Putting it on Ice” Conference

Starting tomorrow in London, ON, hockey researchers and academics will gather at Western University for the fourth Putting it on Ice Conference. This conference, which was last held in Halifax, NS in 2012, is exclusively focused on scholarship related to hockey, whether that be sociological, political, historical, media, literary or economic research. Not surprisingly, there are lots and lots of fascinating papers being presented this year that align with the interests and focus of this blog – and I am happy to say that I will be in attendance to hear them all. While I don’t have space to summarize every paper that will be on the program, after the jump I have copied and pasted the titles and abstracts of just some of the papers I am particularly interested in – but I am sure that many other papers will also catch my interest and stimulate my intellect! You can check out the full program here and the abstracts here.

Full disclosure: I am co-presenting a paper, with Tobias Stark from Linnaeus University in Sweden, which for the sake of interest I am including in the selection of abstracts below.

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

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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: 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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Weekly Links: Sochi reactions and news; Marginalization of female hockey fans; Buffalo building massive downtown hockey complex

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!

  • I just discovered the blog Puckology this week, and it’s pretty great! This article from Clare Austin gives an insightful commentary of how women hockey fans are rendered invisible in marketing. [Puckology]
  • New Englander Charles Pierce reflects on a lifetime of Montreal Canadiens fandom, including comments on Habs legends Jean Beliveau and Ken Dryden. [Grantland]
  • The Ontario Hockey League is stepping up its compensation package for its players, which is huge news. Check out Vicky Grygar’s great piece on this topic that was published on this blog last year for another take. [Sportsnet]
  • In light of Nicklas Backstrom’s failed drug test, which caused him to miss the men’s Gold Medal game between Sweden and Canada, Justin Bourne discusses prescription drug (ab)use in hockey. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin were apparently extremely frustrated with the management of Russia’s Olympic team in Sochi. Some really interesting commentary on the politics of the KHL and Russian hockey. [Pittsburgh TribLive]

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Weekly Links: Sexism in hockey media; the long-term impact of fighting and concussions; Markham and Edmonton arena news; 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!

  • A great read on sexism in hockey media and blogging. Puck Daddy’s Jen Neale has assembled a panel of 10 female hockey bloggers, who discuss a range of related and insightful questions. Definitely worth a read. [Puck Daddy]
  • Interesting story as two Puck Buddys writers and Washington Capitals fans use social media app Grindr in an attempt to determine if many gay men attend Capitals game. [Puck Buddys]
  • Jeff MacGregor with a persuasive argument about fighting in the NHL. Among the many great lines: “The idea that fighting in hockey somehow curbs greater, dirtier violence committed with sticks or skates has never had any empirical support. There’s no evidence that it’s a safety valve — or even that the game needs one.” [ESPN]
  • Meanwhile, Seth Wickersham has a balanced look at the Montreal Canadiens’ George Parros and his views on fighting in hockey. Another excellent piece. [ESPN]

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Weekly Links: Successful Toronto youth program for disadvantaged and minority boys; the business of the NHL; Stu Grimson, Jim Thomson weigh in on fighting; 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!

  • A really interesting read from William Douglas about the Skillz Black Aces and the Black Mafia, two Toronto teams for male youth of colour that were “created to give minority and disadvantaged Canadian youth the exposure and the opportunity to play the expensive sport of hockey.” The teams have featured NHLers such as Kevin Weekes, Anson Carter, Joel Ward, Chris Stewart, and Wayne Simmonds. [Color of Hockey]
  • Eric Duhatschek conducted an in-depth interview with NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, that explored topics such as potential expansion, league revenues, Canadian TV contracts, and more. [Globe and Mail]
  • Meanwhile, Greg Wyshynski interviewed the NHL’s John Collins about the NHL Stadium Series and various media ventures, including its newly announced “NHL Revealed.” [Puck Daddy]

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Teaching a sociocultural course on hockey at the undergraduate level: Thoughts on course content and critically engaging students

Starting next week, I will be teaching a third year course to undergraduates in University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education. The course is called “Hockey in Canadian Society” – and yes, I realize that the title is incredibly similar to the name of this blog! I am extremely excited, if a little nervous, about starting the course. I do not have nerves about public speaking or about the course preparation – I have been excited to teach this course for months and so have already spent quite a lot of time on its design – but rather whether I can successfully impart the complexities of hockey’s social construction in Canadian society to undergraduate students.

This post simply offers an overview of the course, my thoughts about engaging students critically with a sport many of them love, and presents a list of sources that students will read. I hope that it may provide a useful resource for other scholars teaching about hockey and more generally provide a useful list of some good academic and online sources about the sport. If you have any comments, feedback, or suggestions please let me know!

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Comments on Commenters (Re: Girls Getting Too Much Ice Time in Newfoundland)

[Editor's Note: This article by Alvin Ma is a response to Courtney Szto's recent post about a human rights complaint filed by a Newfoundland coach over unequal ice time being given to some girl hockey players. Brent Watkins, the coach who filed the complaint, has contacted me to clarify his arguments and position, and has participated publicly in discussions in the comments section of the original post. In the coming days and weeks we hope to continue this discussion with further posts here on Hockey in Society. Alvin's post is the first contribution to this ongoing discussion.]

I would like to preface everything I say with the note that I am neither a constitutional law expert nor a distinguished sociological scholar. I merely have my viewpoints as any other Canadian citizen, though I might as well put some of my political science knowledge to use here. Courtney Szto’s “A Violation of Human Rights? Girls Getting Too Much Ice Time in Newfoundland” post inspired me to discuss, or rehash my rants on formal essays and informal blog posts written when I was a political science student at the University of British Columbia about the phenomenon of “popular” online comments that could be deemed politically incorrect in regard to immigration policy, religion, gender  equality, and the court system.

While I do not necessarily agree with the sentiments expressed by these commenters, my politically moderate self does legitimize the “highest rated” comments in the sense that they should be taken into consideration when shaping policies in practical terms. Szto links to the Yahoo publication of the original CBC article, the former of which has a consistent conservative commenter base. While many Yahoo commenters frown upon scandals at the hands of Conservatives, the highest-rated comments generally voice greater displeasure at progressive actions and causes. When I took a gender studies policy course last year, I analyzed the optics of the SlutWalk by comparing the highest-rated comments from the “What to Wear to a SlutWalk” Yahoo article with the highest-rated comments from the more progressive CBC commenter base in the article “Toronto ‘Slut Walk’ Takes to the Streets.” Read more of this post

A Violation of Human Rights? Girls getting too much ice time in Newfoundland

Photo from

Photo from

CBC News has reported that a volunteer minor hockey coach in Newfoundland (Stephenville to be exact) has filed a complaint with the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission.  His complaint? That the girls in the area receive an unfair advantage because some of them are able to play in two leagues, the co-ed league and the girls league. First, girls in Newfoundland getting to play more hockey than boys is not a human rights violation.  Rape, murder, war – these are human rights violations.  Discrimination would count as a human rights violation but for Brent Watkins, the Bantam A coach who filed the complaint, the issue is “if we allow more ice time for a female player then they have more advantages than a male player with skill development.”  Welcome to the wonderful world of sports Brent!

In Stephenville, girls who are talented enough to play in the coed (or mixed) league are also allowed to play in the girls league.  Thus Watkins believes that those few girls who play in both leagues receive an unfair advantage of extra ice time, which makes the boys disadvantaged for coed tryouts.  Watkins argues

Sometimes people say we don’t want [girls] there. I picked those [girls]. I want the most skilled players on my team.

That’s not the dispute, the fact that they’re female.  What is the dispute is how people get their skills.

Let’s have a look at a couple of the human rights that may pertain to this “case”.  Article 2 states

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

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“Our game”: What does it mean and who does it include?

Photo from the Society Pages.

It would seem that when the players take the summer off so too do the hockey bloggers.  Well, while everyone else has been glued to the Olympics I have been combing through hockey literature in preparation of grad school applications.  If you can’t watch hockey in the summer, reading about it is a close second. I have been going through Gruneau and Whitson’s book, Artificial Ice: Hockey, Commerce and Cultural Identity, and I would like to share some passages (specifically from Mary-Louise Adams’ chapter – The game of whose lives? Gender, race, and entitlement in Canada’s national game) that have made me reflect on the glorious game of hockey.  Thus, this post is less a commentary or an opinion and more of a sharing piece to give you something to think while pool-side, lying on the beach or heading to the rink (because summer doesn’t change the schedule for Canadians that much). Also, the surrounding Olympic fervour sets a nice background to think about our own national identity. *Apologies for not boxing the passages. WordPress has refused to cooperate so the passages are italicized.*

The men’s hockey victory in Salt Lake City made clear the place of hockey in popular versions of Canadian nationalism.  The victory also made clear the centrality of gender to national mythmaking.  Four days before the nation came to a standstill for the men’s final, members of the Canadian women’s hockey team had won their own gold medal match, also against the Americans.  Although the women’s victory was certainly seen to be sweet, it was celebrated in much the same way as victories in speed skating or skiing. It was not portrayed, as the men’s victory would be, as confirmation of the “hockeyness” of this country or as a boost to national morale. While the women’s win added to Canada’s gold medal tally, the men’s victory propped up the national psyche…

Simply put, so-called national sports afford men – in general, and certain men in particular – an opportunity to represent the nation in a way not open to women.  Sport helps to construct the different versions of citizenship available to men and women. Would national teams generate such frenzied patriotism if national teams had no men?  Could we ever imagine a game played primarily by women as this country’s (or any other’s) national game, as central to its national identity?…

Benedict Anderson says that nations are distinguished from one another by the stories they tell about themselves.  The homogenization of difference and other processes of exclusion are key to this national story-making and to the formation of national identities.  In the drive to construct a cohesive representation of the “imagined community,” not all stories are equal…

THOUGHT:  Let’s extend the “stories” outside of gender.  Who else is not represented by “Canada’s game”? Our aboriginal population, those with disabilities, persons of colour and anyone who isn’t 100% heterosexual is missing from “our game”.  So if it’s not my game like I have been told, whose game is it?  Can it be Canada’s game if it does not include everyone? Logically, not everyone can be included so do we base our “story” on nostalgia? Myth? Majority? Or maybe it’s just the ideal?

And while national stories do change over time, their taken-for-grantedness can make them appear very solid.  As Philip Corrigan writes, “In confirming our sense of what and how we are, [the taken for granted] allows us to forget how we might be different.”…

Anyone who has spent any time around rinks in this country could offer a range of similar examples of gendered practices around hockey.  In a discursive context in which hockey is already given pride of place, where the hockey that really counts is undeniably men’s hockey, everyday rink practices reinforce and represent a sense of male entitlement – even among young boys who are among the primary users of these facilities. Will more women getting out on the ice change this? I don’t think so, not until women’s hockey actually counts, until women can make claims not just on the material aspects of the game but on all its symbolic attachments too…

I thought this was a brilliant statement.  Since a large portion of the scholarship and activism for female participation in sport revolves around numbers, rules, and physiological differences, Adams touches on something that counts for so much more – cultural relevance. Women (among many others) have no part in Canada’s hockey mythology.  I’ve gotten used to not having a change room at the rink. I’ve gotten used to not getting the puck when playing co-ed.  But when you think of it apart from gender equality/equity you realize how large the divide really is. Numbers are easy to fix.  Adding change rooms are easy. Altering a national psyche to include people that were meant to be discriminated against – where do we begin?

I digress, and Adams moves on to write about the significance of shinny in our national identity:

Most discussion of sport and national identity tend to focus on issues related to national teams, Olympic medals, international competition. I certainly can’t say whether this is the case in other countries, but in Canada, “Our Game” means more than this. Not only is it supposed to make us smugly proud of our place – our superiority – in the world, it is supposed to run through our veins.  Hockey is, we are often told, part of who “we” are.  Shinny is supposed to be the source of that connection…

Shawna Richer writes:

On Mother Nature’s rinks, teams of four men were posed to play out the most Canadian of reveries…Arguably the most inherent part of our national landscape, pond hockey is the opportunity to play the game at its purest, most creative form.  Shinny is where the professionals began, where children have the best fun, where grown men feel like boys…This is Canada in a box, right here.

Nostalgia is a powerful means of keeping us from imagining how Canada might be different; it is part of the process of marginalizing women and people of colour, of limiting the stories we can tell about ourselves…it is a process invested with “timelessness, historylessness, and, by extension, racelessness…Shinny fits well into attempts to articulate an overarching, enduring Canadian culture that persists in the face of immigration and changing social relations of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.

Do we really allow Canada to be put in a box as Richer writes? For a country as large and as diverse as our is, how can Canada be represented by one (and any) game of pond hockey?  If our image of shinny suddenly changes to include men and women of all ages, races, and abilities would that be Canada in a box? I might argue that BECAUSE our country is as large and diverse as it is, we force hockey to be the one thing that ties us together.  Surely, the only other common denominator for the majority of us is that we are immigrants, and that’s not nearly as fun to talk about over a beer.