#Canada150: 150 Good, Bad, and Ugly Stories of Hockey in Canada (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Part 1 can be viewed here. Part 3 will be posted later in the summer.

To mark Canada’s sesquicentennial, this three-part post briefly reflects on 150 significant events, people, and institutions in the history of Canadian hockey. Unlike many such reflections, this post includes not only the “good,” but also the “bad” and the “ugly.” Some of the items on this list are ubiquitous in their association with Canadian hockey, oft for good reason. However, much of this list focuses on aspects of the sport that are not mythologized in dominant narratives, media coverage, beer commercials, and fan memories.

I have chosen items that are of particular significance to Canada, and thus exclude many other notable hockey events. Items are not presented in any particular order, and are discussed only briefly. Where possible, links are provided to additional reading or videos. I am confident that this is a woefully incomplete list, so please add your own suggestions in the comments. Part 1 of the series can be viewed here.

150 Stories of Hockey in Canada, Part 2: #51-100

#51 – Fred Sasakamoose: Sasakamoose was the first Indigenous Canadian to play in the NHL, suiting up for 11 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1953-54 season. Sasakamoose is also a survivor of abuse at residential schools, a fact he only shared publicly in 2012, during his moving testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gay9k4icqYE

#52 – The World Hockey Association: Lasting from 1972-1979, this league briefly challenged the NHL in the North American pro hockey landscape. Although it ultimately failed, the WHA had a number of major impacts, including escalating player salaries and speeding the influx of European players to North America. It also allowed cities like Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary, Quebec City, and Ottawa to stake claims as “major league” hockey cities at a time when just three NHL teams existed. When the WHA folded in 1979, four of its teams merged with the NHL—three of which (Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, and Winnipeg Jets) were based in Canada.

 

#53 – The Allan Cup: This trophy has been awarded since 1909 to the top amateur men’s team in Canada. The Allan Cup was created as a response to the professionalization of hockey and the subsequent awarding of the Stanley Cup to non-amateurs. The trophy has been won by teams from each of the 10 provinces, as well as the Yukon.

#54 – Bobby Orr: Widely considered one of the top NHL players of all-time, Orr had a brief—but brilliant—career with the Boston Bruins and (very briefly) the Chicago Blackhawks. Orr, who hails from Parry Sound, ON, played defense with an offensive flair that had never before been seen, let alone condoned, at the professional level, and is credited with altering the expectations of blueliners. Orr was victimized by Alan Eagleson, and played a role in bringing down the corrupt agent and NHLPA leader.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Au8acStAvzw

 #55 – U Sports: Formerly the CIS/SIC, this governing body for Canadian interuniversity sport offers men’s and women’s national championships in hockey. With 35 men’s teams and 33 women’s teams at universities in nine different provinces, the league offers a nearly-nationwide opportunity for approximately 1,500 university student-athletes to compete.

#56 – The Reserve Clause: The reserve clause bound players to the team that owned their rights, and was standard in every NHL contract before the early 1970s. This meant that players had very little leverage to negotiate higher salaries, as they lacked free agency rights to move to another franchise, and thus allowed owners to collude to keep players’ salaries deflated. Legal challenges in other North American sports, and the impact of the WHA competing for hockey labour, led to the end of the reserve clause and the introduction of free agency.

#57 – Hayley Wickenheiser: Arguably the greatest female player of all-time, Wickenheiser has won four gold medals and one silver at the Olympics, and seven golds and six silvers at the World Championships. In addition to starring in the CWHL and CIS (now U Sports), Wickenheiser also played parts of three seasons in professional men’s leagues in Finland and Sweden. While she is widely celebrated in hockey circles for perseverance and overcoming sexism, these narratives may obscure the structural barriers that female players face.

#58 – Creation of the NHL Players’ Association (1957): Led by star players Ted Lindsay and Doug Harvey, the players created a short-lived association to collectively represent NHL players. Original 6 owners, who profited greatly from a cartel structure that enabled the deflation of salaries and a lack of collective organization against players, actively worked to bust the fledgling union. Despite the owners’ success in shutting down the association, the NHLPA would return 10 years later and continues to represent players today.

#59 – Le chandail de hockey / The Hockey SweaterRoch Carrier’s classic children’s story was published in French in 1979 and English the following year. In telling the story of a French Canadian boy who accidentally gets a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater instead of a #9 (Maurice Richard) Montreal Canadiens jersey, Carrier touches on themes around French/English relations, small-town Quebec life, religion, and childhood. He also highlights the Richard’s status as a massive cultural icon in Quebec just as the Quiet Revolution got underway. The book is a cultural touchstone for many Canadians, and has famously adapted into a beloved National Film Board short film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZyDsF-Gp3o

#60 – The “Punch up in Piestany” (1987): A brawl between the U-20 Canadian and Soviet teams at the World Junior Championships in Piestany, Czechoslovakia, this event resulted in both teams being disqualified from the tournament. The incident sparked controversy in Canada, with many celebrating the Canadians’ participation in the violence and others condemning it. Newspaper coverage focused on techniques that could have prevented the brawl, rather than considering social factors within the subculture of Canadian hockey.

#61 – Vancouver Canucks Become Canada’s Third NHL Team (1970): After getting passed over in the NHL’s 1967 expansion because Toronto and Montreal owners feared splitting lucrative broadcast revenue with an additional Canadian team, Vancouver was awarded a franchise for the start of the 1970-71 season. The Canucks became Canada’s third NHL team, a figure that has now increased to seven teams.

#62 – The Montreal Forum: Arguably Canada’s most famous arena, the Forum was the home of the Canadiens from 1926 until 1996. The arena played host to some of the NHL’s greatest stars and dynasties, as well as the what many consider the “greatest game ever played” between the Canadiens and Soviet Red Army in 1975. The building still stands, but ceased to be an arena when the Canadiens moved to the Molson (now Bell) Centre in 1996. The Forum is deeply embedded in Canadiens lore, as evidenced by its closing ceremony.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSrIkELMd9Y

#63 – Tim Hortons: Formerly a Canadian-owned coffee and donut chain, co-founded by NHLer Tim Horton, Tim Hortons is now a Brazilian-owned international corporation. The company’s use of heavy-handed Canadiana, including frequent use of hockey, in its marketing has helped maintain a loyal following among Canadians as its business model has globalized and undercut its local attachment to Canadian communities. Arguably no company has made larger use of hockey to market itself to Canadians, from sponsoring Timbits children’s hockey leagues, to signing NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon as spokesmen.

#64 – Beer League Hockey: Most kids don’t dream of growing up playing hockey in suburban or small town rinks at 11pm, but that’s how hockey is experienced by most adults who play the game. Weekly beer league games keep numerous Canadians engaged in the sport well into middle, and sometime even old, age, and can be a major social ritual.

#65 – University of Toronto: Hockey has deep roots at Canada’s largest university.

#66 – René Lecavalier: The first commentator for La Soirée du hockey, Lecavalier was a household voice in Quebec as the commentator for Montreal Canadiens games from the 1950s until the 1980s. He received numerous honours, including by the Order of Canada, National Order of Quebec, Hockey Hall of Fame, and Canada Sports Hall of Fame.

#67 – Brian Burke Marches in Toronto Pride Parade (2010): Honouring his son Brendan’s legacy, Burke – who was known for his celebration of tough masculinity in hockey – walked in the Toronto Pride Parade wearing a Maple Leafs jersey. Such symbolic gestures have arguably contributed to a slow change in homophobia in pro men’s hockey in North American.

#67

#68 – Abby Hoffman: In 1956, with no girls’ league available to her in Toronto, nine-year-old Abigail “Abby” Hoffman cut her hair and registered to play in a boys’ league under the name “Ab.” Hoffman played the entire season, before being discovered at the final tournament and being barred from playing. Her case would eventually be heard before the Supreme Court of Ontario, which ruled in favour of the league. Hoffman went on to have an illustrious track career, be an advocate for women’s sport, help launch the first Canadian women’s national championship in 1982, and be made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ju1QYe9Zkaw

#69 – Todd Bertuzzi Attacks Steve Moore (2004): In a brutal act of frontier justice, the Vancouver Canucks’ Todd Bertuzzi attacked Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche, punching him from behind and driving his head into the ice. The act was widely seen as retaliation against Moore, who concussed Canucks’ start Markus Naslund earlier in the season. Moore never played again, while Bertuzzi was suspended the remainder of the season and playoffs and fined $250,000. In a rare instance of legal intervention into NHL hockey, Bertuzzi was also charged and plead guilty to assault and given a sentence of community service. Moore sued Bertuzzi and the Vancouver Canucks, and finally settled out of court with Bertuzzi in 2014. The incident remains a touchstone for debates about hockey violence, “the Code” that supposedly governs player behaviour, and legal intervention into pro hockey.

#69

#70 – Truth and Reconciliation Committee: A landmark process, intended to start the healing process from the devastating impacts of residential schools on Indigenous communities, the TRC revealed that hockey played a significant role for some male students at residential schools. For some, such as TRC Commissioner Willie Littlechild, hockey was a lone positive experience in a very dark time. However, the use of sport at residential schools was also problematic in many ways; and, as documented vividly in the novel Indian Horse, could also be a site of abuse.

#71 – The Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes:  From 1895-1925, the Coloured Hockey League was an elite hockey competition for Black athletes in the Maritimes. Although the league has largely been forgotten or ignored in hockey mythology, it is notable evidence of non-White athletes organizing and playing hockey at a time when racial minorities were largely excluded from the sport’s dominant organization. Further, the league pioneered rule innovations that would later become a standard part of hockey’s rules.

#72 – Manon Rheaume: A Team Canada star, goaltender Rheaume became the first woman to play in the NHL when she played one period of an exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992. This gained her widespread celebrity in North America, including a spot on David Letterman’s popular late night show. Her brief NHL stint was met with mixed reaction by Canadian female players, some of whom celebrated Rheaume’s success and lauded her for bringing attention to women’s hockey, and others who saw her brief NHL foray as taking away legitimacy from the women’s game. Rheaume would play 24 games across various minor leagues from 1992-97, in addition to her national team duties and a brief stint in the Western Women’s Hockey League.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2WVVgro6c8

#73 – Derek Boogaard: Boogaard makes this list not for what he accomplished as a hockey player, but for what the circumstances of his life and death tell us about hockey in Canada. Boogaard was an enforcer who literally fought his way into the NHL, using his pugilistic skills to overcome his lack of talent and work his way up the Canadian hockey system. As detailed in devastating detail by John Branch’s three-part New York Times series, and subsequent book, the physical and mental toll of fighting led Boogaard to consume excessive amounts of painkillers, developing a prescription addition that changed his life and contributed directly to his untimely death in 2011.

#74 – Hockey in Film: Like literature, film has chosen hockey as a backdrop or subject on numerous occasions—and not just in Hollywood. In fact, both English and Francophone cinema have made heavy use of hockey in films for many decades, presenting discourses about masculinity, nationhood, race, violence, and sexuality.

#75 – Howie Morenz: Nicknamed “the Stratford Streak,” Morenz was one of the NHL’s first superstars. Morenz died in 1937, while in hospital for a broken leg suffered during a game. His funeral was held at the Montreal Forum and his open casket viewing drew tens of thousands of mourners. Morenz became the first NHL player to have his jersey number retired when the Montreal Canadiens raised his number seven to the rafters the following season.

#76 – 1988 Calgary Olympics: For the first time, Canada hosted a Winter Olympics. It’s men’s hockey team (there was no women’s competition at the time) finished a disappointing fourth, failing to earn a medal. CTV’s production of the hockey tournament was been subject to a fascinating ethnography of the sports broadcasting process.

#77 – Dawson City Nuggets: One of the most celebrated and unique stories in early Canadian hockey history. In 1905, the Nuggets traveled over 7,000 km, from the tiny mining town of Dawson City, Yukon, to challenge the reigning champions, the Ottawa Silver Seven, for the Stanley Cup. After traversing the country by dog sled, boat, and train, the Nuggets arrived in Ottawa exhausted, and were vastly overmatched by the dynastic Silver Seven squad. Despite being thrashed in the tournament, and inspiring a rewriting of the rules around Stanley Cup challenges, the Nuggets’ epic quest has become a mythologized and celebrated hockey legend.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLHFSy5n8Nw

#78 – Fighting: Perhaps the most divisive topic in hockey. Fist fighting has been a part of the sport since its inception, but skyrocketed as a tactic in the 1970s through the late-1990s. Fighting has long been the subject of fierce debate among those who see it as dangerous or barbaric, and those who see it as honourable, entertaining, or necessary safety valve for greater aggression. While fighting is declining rapidly at the NHL level, it is still prevalent in minor and junior leagues.

#79 – Ron MacLean: Maclean has been a host of Hockey Night in Canada since 1986, and played the straight-man to Don Cherry’s outrageous persona on Coach’s Corner. Maclean has won fans for his passion and knowledge for the sport, ability to (somewhat) challenge some of Cherry’s more outrageous opinions, and corny puns. He is also a Hockey Canada registered referee.

#80 – The Clarkson Cup: During 2004-05 NHL lockout, Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson suggested that the top women’s teams in Canada should compete for the Stanley Cup, as the NHL season was cancelled. Instead, she took a page from the playbook of another Governor General, Lord Stanley, and had a new trophy commissioned for the top women’s team in Canada. When the CWHL began in 2009, the league began awarding the Clarkson Cup to its annual champion. The Clarkson Cup championship weekend has become a major event in the women’s hockey calendar.

#81 – The Alkali Lake Braves: A squad composed of men from the Esk’etemc First Nation, and hailing from near Williams Lake, in the British Columbia Interior, the Braves competed in a local league in the late-1920s and early 1930s. The team, which was comprised of ranch hands, achieved enough acclaim to be invited to Vancouver to play against the professional Vancouver Commercials. Although they narrowly lost these games, the Braves earned the respect of fans and media for their style of play. The Braves folded in the early 1930s for financial reasons, but remain part of BC hockey lore.

#82 – Maple Leaf Gardens: Built in downtown Toronto during the Great Depression, Maple Leaf Gardens is—along with the Montreal Forum—one of the two most famous hockey arenas in Canada. The arena opened in 1931, and hosted its final Maple Leafs game in 1999. In between, it hosted numerous NHL legends and several Maple Leafs dynasties. After sitting vacant for over 20 years, the building was finally renovated to feature a grocery store at ground level and Ryerson University’s athletic facilities—including a hockey rink—on the upper levels.

#81

#83 – Jacques Plante Wears a Goalie Mask (1956): Jacques Plante was a star goalie during the Original 6 era, and he also moonlighted as a coach and broadcaster. However, he is perhaps best known for becoming the first goaltender to don a mask full-time during games—previously, goalies had worn no head protection. Plante’s innovation was recognized in a Canadian “Heritage Minute” in the 1990s.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pWeQKw28ZM

#84 – Rogers Purchases Exclusive NHL Broadcast Rights (2013): In a shocking power move, Canadian media company Rogers cut out its competitors and bought the exclusive national broadcasting rights to the NHL for 12 years, for a whopping $5.2 billion dollars. This move meant that TSN, the longtime rival to Rogers’ Sportsnet, was dropped as an NHL broadcaster; and that the CBC, which had been airing Hockey Night in Canada for over half a century lost its status as a major hockey broadcaster (CBC still airs games, but the production and advertising revenues are controlled by Rogers). This was a major shakeup to the landscape of sports broadcasting in Canada, and its ramifications are still being felt.

#85 – Women Players Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (2010): In 2010, over 100 years since Canadian women first began to play hockey, the Hockey Hall of Fame—a powerful arbiter of hockey legacy—finally acknowledged the contribution of excellent women players when it changed its selection process to create a category specifically for women players. Angela James (Canada) and Cammi Granato (USA) became the first women inducted. Only one additional Canadian woman, Geraldine Heaney in 2013, has been inducted since then. James and Heaney will be joined by Danielle Goyette, who is part of the 2017 class.

#86 – World War One: World War One had a profound impact on virtually all aspects of Canadian society, including hockey. Many of the nation’s top male players enlisted in the military, leaving amateur and professional teams struggling to fill out their rosters. In some cases, army teams entered leagues. The Northern Fusiliers (a Toronto-based battalion) played in the 1916-17 National Hockey Association season, but had to withdraw when they were deployed overseas. In the Ontario Hockey Association, another Toronto-based military unit, the 40th Battery, also competed before being shipped to Europe. The lack of high quality men’s competition had the unexpected effect of opening up opportunities for women, who participated in a thriving and popular leagues in Ontario and Quebec before traditional sporting gender roles were reestablished at the end of the war.

#87 – Hockey and the Environment: In recent years, there have been slow moves toward a recognition of the environmental impact of hockey and the responsibility of the NHL and other organizations to address this issue. The NHL has launched a series of green initiatives, although it is not clear that these addresses the root problems of the league’s environment impact. Beyond the NHL, the globalized labour processes behind the manufacture of hockey equipment contribute to global environmental damage, and the impact of climate change is being felt on the winter pastime of outdoor pond hockey.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLeeFeCbUvo

#88 – 1994 NHL Lockout: For the first time in its history, the NHL owners locked out their players and cancelled a portion of the season. Major issues included the attempted imposition of a salary cap (which failed) and issues around contract maximums and revenue sharing between teams. The lockout ended in January, 1995, allowing the NHL to play a condensed 48 game schedule.

#89 – 1974 WHA/USSR Series: Two years after the famous 1972 Summit Series pitted NHL stars against the Soviet Red Army, the NHL’s rival, the WHA, staged a similar exhibition series against the USSR team. The series had none of the cultural resonance of the 1972 event, and has been largely forgotten by most Canadians. However, the series was significant for political, cultural, and economic reasons, including as part of the Canadian government’s efforts to build diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union.

#89

#90 – Tournoi international de hockey pee-wee de Quebec: This annual youth hockey tournament has been held in Quebec City since 1960, and features peewee (aged 11-12) teams from all over the globe. In 2016, despite controversy about banning Russian teams, the tournament had 300 request for teams to register. Among the illustrious players to compete in the tournament are Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur, Mario Lemiuex, and Manon Rheaume.

#91 – Canadian Hockey Migrants: Not all elite Canadian hockey players ply their trade in North America. In fact, there is a long history of male Canadian hockey migrants taking their talents and labour to various European countries. More recently, a handful of Canadians players have moved to East Asia, where hockey is a growing sport. Seven Canadian men have become naturalized South Korean citizens in order to play for the host nation of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Meanwhile, the CWHL’s new Chinese franchise, Kunlun Red Star, has recruited a Canadian assistant coach and likely will include some Canadian players as it builds its inaugural roster.

#92 – The Pacific Coast Hockey Association: Operating from 1912-1924, the PCHA brought professional hockey to the West Coast of Canada and the US. The league featured teams in three BC cities—Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster—and employed superstar players such as Fred “Cyclone” Taylor. The PCHA rivalled the NHL, and from 1914-1924 the champions of the two leagues competed for the Stanley Cup. Although the league folded in 1924, it had a major impact on the rules and labour market of professional hockey in North America.

#92

#93 – The Rise of New Media: In the past 10 years, new media such as Twitter, blogs, and YouTube have substantially changed the experience of consuming hockey, the ways in which media companies produce the game for audiences, the ability of fans to connect with each other, and even, through the rise of advanced statistics, helped change the way the sport is evaluated and played.

#94 – World Biggest Hockey Stick: Guinness World Record certified, this hockey stick is over 60m long and weighs 62,000 lbs. The stick was built for Expo ’86 in Vancouver, with funding from the federal government, and now sits outside the Cowichan Community Centre in Duncan, BC.

 

#95 – Steady Growth in Female Participation since the early 1990s: While female players have historically faced a variety of barriers to participating in hockey, there has been a substantial uptick in the number of female players playing the sport since the year the early 1990s. Statistics from Hockey Canada show that in 1990-91, the number of registered female players was just 8,100; by 1995-96 this number had grown to nearly 24,000; and by 1999-2000 it had risen to over 43,000. Steady growth continued until at least 2009-10, when over 85,000 female players were registered. While registration numbers remain much lower than male players, the percentage growth of female players has been huge.

Women's Hockey Chart copy

Chart by Mark Norman; Data from Hockey Canada

 

#96 – Fantasy Hockey: While gambling on hockey has a history almost as long as the sport, the widespread adoption of the Internet in the 1990s and 2000s facilitated a fantasy hockey boom, which itself is part of the booming fantasy sports market—a market that consists of almost 60 million participants in North America who spend approximately $26 billion on fantasy sports each year. Although it is not as popular as versions such as fantasy football, hundreds of professionals earn income from producing fantasy hockey analysis and predictions and countless enthusiasts play in fantasy hockey leagues each season. Aside from it economic and cultural significance, some argue that fantasy hockey can be used as an education tool to teach digital literacy.

#97 – 2003 Heritage Classic: The first NHL regular season game played outdoors, this match between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens took place at Commonwealth Stadium before over 57,000 spectators. Played in extremely cold weather, the game produced numerous iconic images (including of goaltender Jose Theodore sporting a toque) and was a media success. The game helped launch the NHL’s wave of outdoor games, such as the Winter Classic.

#98 – 2010 Women’s Gold: On home ice in Vancouver, Canada’s women’s team won its third consecutive Olympic gold medal, and second over rival Team USA.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=allADNXAAMA

#99 – Wayne Gretzky: Widely viewed as the greatest male hockey player of all-time, Gretzky is a legendary figure in hockey worldwide. Born in Brantford, ON, Gretzky’s hockey skills were famous from a young age. His NHL career saw him set numerous records, many of which are unlikely to ever be broken, including staggering records such as most goals (92) and points (215) in a season and most points in a career (2,857). Gretzky is Canada’s most famous hockey player and has been received numerous honours, including induction into the Order of Canada and Hockey Hall of Fame. So great is Gretzky’s legacy that his famous #99 jersey is retired league-wide in the NHL.

#100 – The Debate Over Hockey’s Origins: A long standing and heated debate over the “birthplace” of hockey is contested between supporters of claims by Kingston, ON, Windsor, NS, and Montreal, QC. The Society for International Hockey Research investigated the matter in 2002, concluding that an 1875 match played in Montreal was the first game, and earlier claims lack historical merit. Others cite the influence of Aboriginal and European ball-and-stick games played on ice and suggest that these are forerunners of hockey. Others, such as this author, suggest that the debate risks missing the mark when discussing how—and by what social processes and power relationships—the sport developed over time.

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