Hockey Research at the 2018 North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) Conference

In keeping with our effort to highlight academic research on hockey, we are pleased to post details about presentations occurring at the the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) annual conference, which took place from May 25-28 in Winnipeg, MB. The full 2018 book of abstracts can be viewed here, and you can see various Hockey in Society posts related to hockey research at academic conferences here.

There were an abundance of hockey-related research papers presented at this year’s conference, which covered an interesting range of topics related to hockey’s social, cultural, and political history. Included on the program are two panels dedicated exclusively to hockey: one on hockey in the Cold War and one on business and cultural aspects of the sport.

Please note that we are reproducing abstracts that are written by the author. We claim no ownership of this writing and fully acknowledge it to be the authors’ intellectual property. Abstracts are alphabetically by author’s last name.


Canadian Speculation:
Back-Up Host for the 1962 IIHF World Championships or NATO Ally?

By: Heather L. Dicther (De Montfort University)

In response to the creation of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, the western-controlled Allied Travel Office imposed new travel restrictions on East Germans wanting to visit any western country. All NATO member states also implemented this travel restriction, which included a ban on athletes and teams representing the German Democratic Republic. These new travel restrictions quickly impacted sport, with the 1962 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships set to take place in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in early 1962. As it began to look like East Germany would not be able to participate in the tournament, rumors began to spread across the ice hockey world that powerhouse teams from Europe – the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and perhaps even Sweden – would all withdraw from the tournament, leaving a decimated field and weakened tournament.

Wanting to prevent the marquee international ice hockey event from turning into a debacle, Canadian ice hockey leaders pleaded with the Canadian government to take action within NATO. Canadian Amateur Hockey Association President Jack Roxburgh even called on Prime Minister John Diefenbaker “to prevent one of the worlds few remaining avenues of friendly international association from being completely wiped out.” Many within the Canadian hockey community even sought to transfer the tournament north of the border. Yet, these desires to contest Canada’s favorite sport at the highest level stood in direct opposition to the country’s role as a NATO member state and its obligations to the multilateral organization.

Using government records and newspaper coverage, this paper will examine the complicated path which the Canadian government navigated during a tense period in the Cold War. This paper will demonstrate how Diefenbaker’s government attempted to balance the country’s enthusiasm for all things ice hockey with Canada’s international obligations – which included remaining vague on the exact nature of the East German travel restrictions. Ice hockey was typically an area in which Canada could assert its role as a major international player, but the public response from Canadian ice hockey leaders regarding the location of the 1962 IIHF World Championships forced the Canadian government to tread carefully both within NATO and to the Canadian public.

Financing a New Igloo: Mario Lemieux’s Gamble and Pennsylvania’s Payout

By: Benjamin J. Downs (Louisiana State University)

During the 2006-07 National Hockey League season, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato collaborated with the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Lemieux Group LP, to secure a financing plan to build a $290 million hockey arena to prevent the Penguins from leaving Pittsburgh for Kansas City. While government officials worked to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh, political, economic, and sport facility realities in the city limited public financing opportunities. For example, Major League Baseball’s Pirates (i.e., PNC Park), the National Football League’s Steelers (i.e., Heinz Field), as well as the University of Pittsburgh Panthers (i.e., Heinz Field; Petersen Events Center), opened publicly funded sports facilities between March 2001 and May 2002.

The methods municipalities use to fund sport facility projects with public dollars have been dictated by changes in the federal tax code. Three laws directly impacted public funding of facilities. The Revenue Act of 1913 excluded interest income earned by holding a municipality bond. The Revenue Expenditure and Control Act of 1968 (RECA) extended the tax exemption to bonds to sports facilities where at least 25% of their services were used by a private tenant and at least 25% of the revenues from the facility were used to service the debt. Lastly, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 altered RECA by ending the sport exemption and restricting bond interest exemptions to public facilities with no more than 10% nongovernment use. These efforts resulted in the 21 contemporary public – private partnerships used to finance sport facilities and an increase in the utilization o f revenue bonds (Williams & Seifried, 2013).

In consideration of this tax history and the practice of professional teams threatening relocation to secure favorable construction financing deals, this paper seeks to answer the following question: How did the Lemieux Group, LP leverage its position to secure a new, publicly financed hockey facility in Pittsburgh? The author utilized primary sources (e.g., government documents and contemporaneous Pittsburgh newspaper reports) to present the case of the development and financing of the new Penguins arena. Furthermore, this case provides an example of a city that did not construct a hockey or basketball arena during the nearly two decades that RECA offered the sports exemption. The Pittsburgh Civic Arena was planned and built between 1945 and 1961. The new Penguins arena was planned in 2007. Therefore, many of the public – private funding plans used in other cities since 1986 informed the funding of the facility.

In order to circumvent the financing challenges within the city, the new Pittsburgh hockey arena construction plan incorporated gaming revenue as part of the funding model. This project will provide insight into the utility of gaming revenue as a source of public financing. Ultimately, this paper will demonstrate Lemieux Group, LP leveraged a decade of on – ice success, poor front office business management, and a new facility (i.e., Kansas City’s Sprint Center) to secure a new arena in Pittsburgh with the help of a previously unexplored source of public sport facility financing.

‘‘There Was Howe, With His Muscles Bulging”:
The 1959 Gordie Howe – Lou Fontinato Fight and Postwar Masculinity

By: Stacy L. Lorenz (University of Alberta, Augustana Campus)

This paper explores cultural constructions of hockey and masculinity in postwar North America through a close study of one of the game’s most successful and prominent players in this period, Gordie Howe. By combining skill and scoring ability with toughness, physicality, and a willingness to fight when necessary, Howe epitomized many qualities of the ideal hockey player over the course of his lengthy professional career. Using Canadian and American newspapers and magazines as the primary research base, this paper analyzes media representations of Gordie Howe in the context of ideals of North American masculinity following the Second World War. In particular, this study focuses on media coverage of Howe’s highly publicized fight against New York Rangers enforcer Lou Fontinato at Madison Square Garden on February 1, 1959.

For example, a feature article in Life magazine after the fight spoke to Howe’s power and strength under the title, “Don’t mess around with Gordie: Lou Fontinato, hockey’s tough guy, discovers that the game’s best player, Gordie Howe, is a rough man in a fight.” In the pictures accompanying the Life article, on the left, “the winner,” Howe, is shown flexing shirtless in the Red Wings’ dressing room, with just a small cut below his left eye. On the right, “the loser,” Fontinato, can be seen donning a cumbersome face mask meant to protect his now fractured nose and dislocated jaw. The image of Howe captures perfectly his rugged build and stoic nature. In contrast, Fontinato is a man who has been defeated and humiliated; Lou is a victim of Howe’s manly superiority.

Historians have identified the period after the Second World War as a time when Canadian and American manhood was perceived to be in decline. Anxieties about masculinity were related to t he increased presence of women in the work force, the prevalence of men in sedentary white – collar jobs in the civil service and corporate offices, and worries about men’s diminishing physical strength in an increasingly suburban society under the threat of war. This paper assesses how perceptions of Gordie Howe – especially his strength and physicality – related to these broader historical conceptions of masculinity in North American society and culture as a whole.

During Howe’s rookie season in 1946 – 47, Detroit newspapers described him as “The Bashful Basher.” This study argues that the combination of controlled violence and humble manliness suggested by this nickname perfectly captures Howe’s masculine legacy within the culture of hockey. These qualities were especially apparent in the 1959 Howe – Fontinato fight. By contributing to historical and sociological understandings of gender identities in hockey, this paper provides a platform for the critical analysis of the deeply entrenched connections between violence and masculinity in the sport. It also adds to the growing body of literature investigating the history of masculinities in Canada and the United States.

Cold War Kids: The Influence of Cold War Politics
Upon State Interventions into Canadian Junior and Youth Ice Hockey

By: Alexandra Mountain (University of Pittsburgh)

Th e enduring legacy of Cold War ice hockey in the United States and Canada has predominantly focused upon the heroic actions of great men in thrilling international games. Investigations into the cultural significance of the 1972 Summit Series and the 1980 Miracle on Ice have highlighted the intricate nature of the international relationships forged from these games, diplomatic and personal alike. This paper, however, will examine how Cold War ice hockey, and the emotions tied to national success during this time, influenced government interventions into the training and practice of young hockey players. Specifically, this paper will analyze steps taken by the Canadian government from the 1960s until the late 1970s to standardize and improve the development of young hockey players to remain competitive against the Soviet Union and other emerging European hockey powers. Furthermore, this paper will assess the impact of these top – down changes upon the young players themselves, and their own communities.

In 1961 Bill C-131 committed the federal government of Canada to encourage and promote amateur fitness and health across the country. A series of federal reports on the state of hockey were commissioned as a result of this Act. Originally these reports were undertaken as an attempt to understand the state of hockey in Canada, investigating the impact of grueling hockey regimes upon young players, and the standard of training and development throughout Canada. However, as hockey became an increasingly important focal point of Cold War relations, the reports focused more outwardly upon the role of Canada in international hockey. The reports also suggested changes that could be made to improve hockey at the grassroots and professional levels. This paper will outline the impact of these reports upon the daily training methods of Junior and Youth programs. In addition, using newspaper articles that bemoaned the fate of Canadian hockey, this paper will emphasize how the strong cultural fears associated with the emergence of Soviet and other strong European hockey teams propelled the Canadian government into enacting a series of changes in developmental hockey programs. Finally, using interviews with former professional and amateur hockey players, this paper will demonstrate how federal intervention and the culture of Cold War hockey influenced the play and passion of young players.

The ‘Miracle Maid’ of Cornwall, the Elysium rink, and the winter of 1916

By: Thomas Rorke (Pennsylvania State University)

In the winter of 1916, Cleveland entrepreneur Dudley Humphrey promoted a series of hockey matches at the Elysium skating rink as the “Canadian Championship.” While this title was not backed by any institution or governing body of the sport, the games featured teams from Montreal and eastern Ontario that featured the best known women’s players of the time, including Cornwall’s Albertine Lapensee and Montreal’s Agnes Vautier. These matches represented an important moment for women’s ice hockey in several ways.

The winter of 1916 was marked by a craze for women’s hockey, as thousands filled arenas in Cornwall, Ottawa and Montreal to watch Lapensee, dubbed the “Miracle Maid” by the press, face off against her competition. Ice hockey for women, which had been an occasional feature of skating parties and winter carnivals became a commercially viable spectacle attracting large paying crowds. The season was also marked by accusations in Montreal newspapers that Lapensee was a man disguised as a woman, a claim vigorously disputed by the Cornwall press. Finally, the florescence of the game in the eastern Ontario attracted attention in the United States, sparking the organization of both the “championship” games at the Elysium and several clubs in Midwestern cities, including the Pittsburgh Polar Maids.

The story of Albertine Lapensee’s Cornwall team includes elements of the big city – small city competition between Montreal, Ottawa, and Cornwall, the public scuffle over gender norms in the newspaper accusations over Lapensee’s sex, and transnational trial of the commercial possibility of selling women’s ice hockey to paying audiences. Most histories make of this a simple story that emphasizes the novelty of Lapensee as the first woman star in the sport, and as an early case of demands for sex – verification. This paper will contextualize the story, with particular attention to the contested civic identities that animated the hockey rivalries between Cornwall, Ottawa, and Montreal, and the transnational connections that linked the hockey markets of the Ottawa Valley with those of Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

‘The Sensational Willie O’Ree’:
Race and Stardom in the Western Hockey League, 1961 – 1974

By: MacIntosh Ross (Western University)

In 1958, Willie O’Ree of Fredericton, New Brunswick, dressed for the Boston Bruins, becoming the first black player to compete in the NHL. Although his offensive output was a modest 14 points in 45 NHL games, O’Ree was praised for his incredible speed and tenacious play. Despite his talent and potential, O’Ree faced a barrage of racial discrimination during his NHL career. On the ice, opposing players targeted O’Ree with raced – based taunts and violent cheap shots. Fans in opposing rinks hollered abuse at O’Ree, loudly proclaiming their disdain for the black man who dared display his talents on equal terms with the NHL’s white majority. When the Bruins learned that O’Ree was concealing an impaired eye (injured during his junior hockey days), they promptly traded him to the Montreal Canadiens. After a brief stint with the Canadiens minor league affiliate, Montreal sold O’Ree’s contract to the Los Angeles Blades of the Western Hockey League (WHL).

When Willie O’Ree arrived from Canada to play for the Los Angeles Blades of the Western Hockey League (WHL), the team had amassed an abysmal 3-9-0 record to start the 1961-62 season. O’Ree joined the Blades for a 3-2 overtime loss against San Francisco, after which team ownership fined every player but O’Ree for their poor play. Although he saw limited ice time in his first outing, his speed and offensive abilities provided Blades’ fans with a glimmer of hope. With the league leading Edmonton Flyers next on the schedule, the Blades’ immediate future looked bleak. Yet, with O’Ree in the lineup, the struggling Blades hel d the Flyers to a 4-4 tie. Two days later, O’Ree and the Blades defeated the Flyers in a rematch. At a time when fighting in hockey went virtually unquestioned, O’Ree also held his own with his fists. Although the Blades ultimately missed the playoffs, the twenty-four year old O’Ree tallied 54 points in as many games, becoming a fan favorite in the city of Angels. Although O’Ree spent most of his career playing in the WHL, virtually no historical writing has been dedicated to this portion of his career. By examining the extensive newspaper reports pertaining to his WHL career, this paper provides a preliminary overview of O’Ree’s time in the minor leagues, detailing his accomplishments and hardships between 1961 and 1974.

Détente Takes a Beating: Sport Diplomacy, Angola, and the Collapse of Détente

By John A. Soares (University of Notre Dam)

This paper will explore sport at the intersection of détente-era efforts to reduce Cold War tensions, and the crisis in Angola. During the détente years, officials in various sports organizations and foreign ministries sought to replicate the success of “ping-pong diplomacy” in smoothing Washington’s diplomatic opening to the People’s Republic of China. Soviet, American and Canadian officials tried to use hockey diplomacy to improve relations between the North American democracies and the USSR, while American and Cuban officials sought to use baseball as a means of moving Cuban-American relations toward normalization. At their apogee, in 1975-76, this sports diplomacy appeared to give tangible hope that these relationships could be improved: negotiators reached agreement for a series of historic new hockey competitions in the 1975 – 76 “Super Series” and the inaugural Canada Cup in 1976; and tentative agreement was reached to permit a team of major league all – stars to tour Cuba in the spring of 1976.

Despite the promise of this diplomacy, though, these hockey initiatives did less to improve understanding than their champions had hoped, and the baseball initiative collapsed entirely. In both cases, a major contributing factor was the combination of Cuba’s intervention (with Soviet assistance) in the civil war in the newly independent African nation of Angola. The hockey tours brought memorable events, like the 3-3 tie between Moscow’s Central Army Club and the Montreal Canadiens, and fans on both sides of the Cold War were impressed by the skill and sportsmanship of players like Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak and Boston Bruins’ defenseman Bobby Orr; however, the tour also featured protests by North American fans against visiting Soviet teams and on-ice violence. Additionally, the Cuban intervention in Angola led the U.S. State Department to decide not to approve major leaguers’ travelling to Cuba.

Politics and ideology, evident in concerns about a far-distant country, undermined efforts at détente. This story, based on research in American, Canadian, Cuban and Soviet sources, connects sport to major trends in international relations, and helps illuminate the difficulties facing efforts at détente, despite the most fervent hopes of its many champions Moscow, Washington, and other capitals.

“Cultrepreneurs – The Patricks and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association”

By: John Wong (Washington State University)

In his now classic paper published in 1986, historian Steve Hardy called on Sport Historians to pursue investigations into the entrepreneurial enterprises of sport promoters. He argued that the decisions of sport entrepreneurs helped shape the sportscape. Since entrepreneurs were preoccupied in introducing and promoting a sport product in the marketplace, their decisions on how the product actually appeared to the consumers were both influenced by what they perceived be what the consumer wanted as well as how the marketplace reacted. Yet, sport in general and hockey in particular was not just any consumer product. As an important social and cultural institution, sport could elicit a fierce brand loyalty that few other industries could replicate. Like any other product though, the introduction of a new sport product would still need to attend to all the details within the context of the marketplace and this is especially so if it was a new market.

At the turn of the twentieth century, two brothers started a professional ice hockey league in the Canadian Pacific Northwest. Unlike the National Hockey League, the Patrick brothers’ did not endure yet their league would go on to challenge for the supremacy of the sport and its franchises won on several occasions. Whereas hockey had been popular in other parts of Canada by the time of the establishment of the new league, there was no hockey tradition to speak of in the Pacific Northwest. By bringing hockey to the region, the Patrick brothers’ entrepreneurial initiative helped spread a popular Canadian cultural pastime to a region where it did not exist before thus making their business adventure a cultural entrepreneurial experiment as well. Drawing on archival records and newspaper accounts, this paper argues that the Patricks were cultrepreneurs.


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