Reflecting on the 2018 Hockey Conference: Delivering New Understandings of the Game

The Hockey Conference is a biennial event held at various locations throughout North America. It has instrumentally advanced scholarship on ice hockey and brings together academics, community members, athletes, coaches, and fans. Hockey scholars can come from various fields; their perspective for studying the sport can be grounded in things like globalization, marketing, history, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, literature, anatomy and physiology, and others. If you didn’t catch the blog post on the event back in 2015, you can read it by clicking here. For more information, visit the conference website at www.thehockeyconference.ca.

Please note that this blog post will likely be dripping in bias given that I hosted the last conference, so much of the commentary will be from my own perspective and I recognize that it will be unique.
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The ninth international Hockey Conference took place at the University of Alberta in Edmonton this past July 5-7, 2018. It was titled “The Multiplicity of Hockey: Delivering New Understandings of the Game”, and sought to examine the diversity of hockey and how it can be made inclusive for all who participate in it. My conversations with a handful of past participants, combined with my own observations, revealed that past conferences had sometimes been male-dominated and largely focused on men’s hockey. I thus made it my goal to create diversity—to invite guest speakers and abstract submissions that would piece together an intersectional approach to hockey. For me, this meant including guest speakers who identified as women, as ethnic minorities, as openly gay, and as having experienced disability. It also meant attracting the research of natural scientists working in hockey such as physiotherapists or strength and conditioning coaches to complement the many scholars from the humanities.

The first day was packed with guest speakers and presentations and concluded with an

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2018 Hockey Conference program cover

opening cocktail. Participants were welcomed to Edmonton by City Councillor Ben Henderson. The second day was also full of presentations and speaker sessions, but it was capped off with a lively game of shinny at the Clare Drake Arena on campus. The third day was a half-day with three panels of presentations and a book series before brunch. The book series was a pilot project of mine—I wanted to showcase conference participants’ books on hockey, including the one published by the Canadian Museum of History that featured several papers from 2016 Hockey Conference participants. Other work was showcased in the form of Brian Kennedy doing his regular conference reading from his newest book (it’s still under wraps) and we also welcomed newcomer Donna Gall who screened her documentary on women’s hockey, Play Fair.

 

Some of the overarching themes of the conference presentations included the following: the power of the media; hockey parents; 20th century coaches, teams and communities; future initiatives, factors, and trends; conditioning, injury prevention, and rehabilitation; the legitimacy and visibility of women in hockey; the development of girls’ and women’s hockey; analytics; race and ethnicity; politics; mental health and mindset; masculinity and sexuality, and team culture and athlete success. To view the entire conference program, including all presentation titles, click here.

 

The keynote and guest speakers this year were a dynamic and captivating group that sparked a great deal of conversation among conference participants (this may be my bias talking). The full list of speakers and their biographies can be found by clicking here, but the following is a summary:

  • Karl Subban: Former school principal and the father of five children, three of whom play in the NHL or its feeder system. Karl spoke at our closing brunch about motivating young people to reach their potential and overcome adversity
  • Jen Botterill: Former hockey Olympian and sports commentator. Jen spoke about her Olympic experiences and the development of girls’ and women’s ice hockey
  • Harnarayan Singh: Commentator for Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi and Sportsnet. Harnarayan shared his triumphs and challenges associated with making a career in hockey as a visible minority
  • Dr. Vicky Paraschak: Sport sociologist in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Windsor. With much experience both studying and working with Indigenous populations, she discussed the application of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to ice hockey in Canada.
  • Brock McGillis: Openly gay former professional ice hockey player. He spoke about his experiences in elite ice hockey as a closeted player who now seeks to spread inclusion in sport and society at large.
  • Kieran Block: Teacher, former sledge hockey Paralympian, and former elite ice hockey player. Kieran shared the story of his journey from stand-up hockey to sledge hockey and back again as a result of a cliff diving accident that shattered his legs.
  • Ian Herbers and Stan Marple: The head coach and general manager of U Alberta Golden Bears hockey respectively, Ian and Stan did a Q & A session with me about a range of topics: Hockey is for Everyone Month, women’s hockey, the globalization of the sport, and memories from Ian’s time with the Edmonton Oilers and Stan’s time with the Bears.
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Brunch with Karl Subban

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Hockey Conference shinny

For those who know me, it comes as no surprise that I will also be hosting the 2020 conference in partnership with its founder Dr. Colin Howell. I will be Dr. Howell’s postdoc at that time and he will be retiring that year, so it seemed fitting that the tenth anniversary of the conference be celebrated at the same time as his retirement in the very place where it all began—Saint Mary’s University. Moreover, Saint Mary’s will have a new arena on campus by then and the city of Halifax will have hosted the 2019 Memorial Cup, making Halifax a timely location for the conference. I will be on Hockey Conference hiatus until January 2019, so no themes or plans have been put in place as of yet, but if you’re an academic or simply someone who is interested in the sport, I’d love to have you join us!

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