The Hockey Conference: An opportunity to talk shop and play shinny

Since 2012, I’ve been a member of a stand-up group of individuals who come together every second year to talk shop and play a game of shinny. We call the meeting The Hockey Conference and it attracts scholars and other like-minded individuals who study and appreciate the sport from sociological, historical, literary, economic, kinesiological, and other perspectives.  You may have previously read reports on past editions of The Conference by our faithful Hockey In Society Editor, Mark Norman, who also makes appearances. I have joined the planning committee for the 2016 Conference (shameless self-promotion/disclosure) and want to use this blog post to showcase the conference and talk a bit about its history, aims, and notable participants as it has very much contributed to the development of stringent academic scholarship on ice hockey.

Hockey was never really a popular object of academic enquiry until approximately the 1990s when Communications scholar Richard Gruneau and Political Scientist David Whitson wrote their highly influential book, Hockey Night in Canada : Sports, Identities, and Cultural Politics (1994). Much like The Hockey Conference aims to do, the book sought to address the wider implications of ice hockey in Canadian society. The authors discussed professional hockey in Canada, the sport’s role in small communities, violence, commercialism, and hockey’s link to Canadian national identity. These are all common topics at The Hockey Conference (although subjects are not limited to just Canada) and Gruneau & Whitson’s (1994) book played a key role in creating a demand for the conference, but also shedding light on a range of relevant topics worthy of analysis.

The Hockey Conference is in its eighth edition and has been held in several locations including Buffalo NY, Plymouth MN, Victoria BC, and London ON. It has also made three trips to Halifax NS, where it was inaugurated in 2001 at Saint Mary’s University. It has played host to many prolific keynote speakers and guest speakers such as Jean Béliveau, Ken Dryden, Jean Perron, Stacey Wilson, Harley Hotchkiss, Mike Danton, and David Whitson, to name a few.HConf Logo

Conference themes have ranged from historical and contemporary perspectives on the sport, to women’s hockey, to the construction of the hockey family, and others. The theme for the upcoming 2016 edition will be the multiplicity of hockey. Themes are mostly suggestions, however, and tend to be general enough that almost any work on hockey can be framed within them, which allows for a whole range of interesting topics to be discussed. This means that the multiplicity of hockey can be taken quite broadly. The Conference will seek to examine how the ways that we conceive of, organize, or participate in hockey have changed  or are different and how those changes and differences may have had any lasting or meaningful impacts on society or the game itself; essentially an examination of the diversity of hockey. This applies to all levels of participation and competition literally anywhere in the world.

The Conference isn’t limited to academic types, although the bulk of us are indeed affiliated with Universities in some way. But there have been players, coaches, parents, members of governing bodies—you name it. Having such a diverse range of participants has complemented the core structure of academic work on which The Conference rests. In fact, in the 2013 special ice hockey edition of academic journal Sport in Society, Conference organizers and presenters Julie Stephens and Andrew Holman indicate that more rinkside research must be conducted in order to advance our studies in the field. This means purposeful interaction with and inclusion of those outside of academia who organize, play, critique, and appreciate ice hockey. So I think it’s cool that The Conference brings together people from different arenas (see what I did there?).

What I like most about The Conference is that it’s small enough that participants don’t have to miss many sessions in favour of others and everyone’s passion for both sharing their own work and commenting on that of others creates a really fun and collegial atmosphere. It’s not hard to fit in and because the group is relatively small, you really feel like you’re contributing to something awesome and that what you have to say is important.

We are hoping to have over 100 presenters for the 2016 Conference at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton this coming July 6-8, so this means that if you are someone with something to share about ice hockey in/and society, you should consider submitting an abstract and joining us. Keep an eye out for the call for abstracts. Graduate students are also more than welcome. The organizing committee is hoping to turn the event into a bit of a Maritime experience, so participants are encouraged to bring their friends and families and spend a few days enjoying the sights, music, food, and remarkable East coast.

Edit: the game of shinny will be a game of sledge hockey as ParaNB has offered to provide the equipment so everyone can try sledge.

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